Confessions of the Fat Girl #5
My friend Laura had been raising children since she was fifteen years old. I agree that fifteen is a tad young to become a mother, but that was how her life went and, after five daughters, she pretty much had it down to a tee. Her youngest daughter, Brylee, was just over three years older than my little one so both girls got along well too. Like mothers, like daughters.
One night, I was standing in the living room chatting with Laura. My daughter was curled up in the easy chair behind me and Brylee was standing beside me, her arms wrapped around me adoringly. As I caressed her hair, she smiled up at me and I felt so blessed in that moment to be the kind of person to be worthy of the love and admiration of this young girl. Not every adult in her world had been worthy of her affections and Brylee knew that, which made the safe space around me even more sacred for her and her mother.
So there we all were, hugging and chatting and laughing. Suddenly, I became extremely conscious of my weight. There, in the middle of something that had absolutely nothing to do with weight, I was fully aware of mine. I felt huge standing there, with this tiny child beside me, her arms reaching around me in such a trusting, carefree manner. She had laced her fingers on the other side of me and I could see them turning white from the unconscious strain of staying interlocked.
She wasn’t at all aware of her straining grip around my ponderous waistline. She was simply in the moment, enjoying being near an adult who loved her and kept her safe. I was, however, all too conscious of the fact that her slender eight-year-old arms could barely span my girth. I was embarrassed and appalled. I felt disgusting.
Carelessly I blurted out, “I love it when Brylee hugs me because her arms reach all the way around me.”
I could hear the words tumbling out of my mouth and knew the damage they were causing. I could feel them twisting up in my daughter’s gut, but I could not stop them. They had a force of their own.
I forged onward, watching the scene with a detached horror, “Kait’s hands don’t touch when she hugs me because her arms can’t reach all the way around me…”
I couldn’t stop the words! My own insecurities and awkwardness had developed a life of their own and were spewing forth in hot fire that was consuming my baby. I tried in vain to repair the damage, only further injuring her tenderness, “Because Brylee is older, her arms are longer so her hands touch when she hugs me and then I don’t feel so fat.”
Oh… my… god!
I felt my daughter’s spirit crashing to the floor behind me and dared not turn to view the havoc I had wreaked. When I did so, she was staring at me with tears streaming down her face, wide-eyed with shock that her very own mother had just shattered her almost-five-years-old heart.
“My hugs,” her words caught on a choking sob, “aren’t good enough, Momma?” she whispered in a strangled voice.
I wanted to die.
I fell at her feet, placing my head in her lap and burst into tears. “Oh, honey! They are the best hugs ever! I love your hugs! Momma just… I just… I…”
What could I say? How do I help a young child understand why I had said any of that?
I couldn’t. I can’t.
There were no words to repair the damage I caused my daughter in a moment when I was acutely sensitive to my own personal condition, when I spoke without heeding the consequences of the words.
No matter how much I apologized, no matter how much I cried, no matter what I said in an attempt to convince her that it was about me, not her, it didn’t matter. In that moment, my fat issue became her problem. All she had heard was her hugs were insufficient. And, at five, your hugs are all ya got so if they are inadequate, you must be too.
I apologized profusely. I held her for hours past her bedtime while she sniffled sadly against my chest. I caressed her hair and spoke lovingly to her until she fell asleep, hiccupping occasionally with the heart-rending sound of innocence shattered.
Now, years later, her arms do reach around me and her fingers can intertwine. It hasn’t been, up to this point, because I was getting any smaller. It was because she was growing older, her arms were getting longer. And, even though I am fairly certain that this entire uncomfortable scene is a faded memory and only a tiny blip in her life, I believe it is still there, haunting her.
To this day, every time she hugs me I can feel her judging whether or not her hands will touch. Sometimes she even will say, “Look, Momma. I can reach all the way around.”