My six year old daughter and I are walking our frenetic hound dog round the neighborhood. She looks at me while I pause to let the dog’s nose investigate a mound of something unseemly in the grass and says “Mom, you’re not fat or chunky.”
“Ok, what made you decide to tell me that?” I stammer out after a pause.
“Well, I was just thinking that your body doesn’t look fat or chunky to me. Do you think you are fat or chunky?”
“I used to think I wanted my body to be smaller, but now I like my body just the way it is. It’s healthy and it can do all the things I need it to do.”
“Do you think my body is fat or chunky?”
“BooBoo, I don’t. But let’s remember that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Fat, thin, short, tall, medium. Most people can’t really do anything about how their body looks, or what size or shape they are. People’s bodies are not the most important or interesting parts of them, you know?”
“Yeah, like you could be beautiful but a bad person. Like Hans in Frozen”
The next day I admonished her to stop feeding the dog her meal scraps because people food isn’t good for dogs, and added that Daisy could gain too much weight and that wouldn’t be good for her.
“Don’t dogs come in all shapes and sizes? Is it bad for dogs to be chunky but OK for people to be chunky?”
Girl, I am trying to unravel decades of self loathing over here. Cut me some slack.
“Well, dogs can’t tell us with words when their bodies aren’t feeling well or aren’t working like they should, so it can be dangerous for dogs to get bigger than their bodies can handle. Especially if they get bigger because they are eating human food that they should not be eating at all.”
WHEW. That was some inspired blither blather. Not inaccurate, per se. But man. This kid puts me on the spot.
I’m still unraveling the body size = health entanglement. I wish I had more stamina and more flexibility, and I think those are reasonable goals. I feel nostalgic and sad to know I ran a marathon once a thousand years ago, and used to go on long runs in the Chicago winter FOR FUN and I used to be able to twist into some binds in yoga class. Now I get winded on a swift trot behind my daughter as she scooters through the neighborhood screaming Let it Go at the very top of her lungs and some days I can barely touch my toes without tweaking my back.
There is a group of three ladies in our neighborhood, maybe 5 years or so older than I am, who walk at a quick clip down the middle of the road every single day, rain or shine. They pass our house around 10:30 am on the weekdays. They chat and laugh and are going much faster than I could sustain for an hour. They have lived-in middle age bodies, but I bet you $100 they are in better shape than I am. I envy their friendship and the routine and the strident arm swings of women whose hearts are getting stronger every day.
I’m about to head back to full-time work, and I’ve been scribbling draft schedules that will cram in some exercise every day. I’ll be doing a lot more sitting and some commuting, and the old raspy-voiced fear has started whispering in my ear that I’m going to gain weight. I whisper back that I will only eat salads for lunch and get up at 5am to exercise, but immediately my stomach starts to growl and my eyes start to ache.
The griefs and heartbreaks of the world are so much bigger than my pants size. I feel shame for even THINKING about new clothes or cute lunch containers when the world is on fire in every direction. I’m grossed out by my own privilege – to even have the spare emotional space to ponder the best way to pack veggies for lunches in the office or wonder whether I will need to buy actual “dress pants”.
And yet here is this fresh season with its upheaval of my routine and eating habits, and our family schedules and my perceived control over how I cook and eat and move my body, packed on top of the health anxiety of the perpetual pandemic that still stalks us all. This is where I am. Caring and praying and donating and reading about Afghanistan and Haiti and Lebanon and breakthrough infections and wildfires and floods, and still investing a lot of head space in my first day outfit selection.