Jayci rounds the corner on a decade of life and I watch her limbs lengthen. Her hair cascades in fine tangles over her shoulder blades, across her slender lankness. Her blue eyes are soft and empathetic, with a hint of green or perhaps hazel in their depths. Tiny freckles dot her fair skin and her teeth are her father’s. This will probably become a problem requiring root canals and braces at some point, but for now they are just the right size for her mouth. She is perfection, of course, a great beauty both inside and out.
I wonder if this is how my mom looked at me when I was ten. If she loved my coarse hair, even as she trimmed it neatly into an ill-advised mullet. If I apologized as profusely and often as Jayci does, and if she found it endearing or annoying. I wonder if my wide frame and long legs were beautiful through a mother’s eyes. If we saw two different silhouettes when we looked in the mirror.
Of course this conversation matters, because everyone is having it. Whether or not we use our words, we all declare the relative value of a body by the magazines we read, the accounts we follow, the insistent beep she can hear from her bed every time I step on the scale. When Nana says she needs to lose some weight, or I lament to a friend in the passenger seat about how my normally size 8 frame has somehow swelled to a 12. I tell the story for a laugh, of how I suspect a thyroid problem and the doctor asks me if I had tried a low-carb diet. But I wonder what she hears. What she sees when she looks in the mirror. I wonder how to talk about it, how to shape her view of her own shape. Of the shape of other girls and woman around her.
But how, exactly do I teach her to embody herself, to take up space without being apologetic. To teach her that her body is good, beautiful, powerful, and strong. But not a weapon or a crutch. Not an Achille’s heel or a “stumbling block” for boys who grow as terrifyingly quickly as she does. To own her voice and her brain just as surely as she does her knobby elbows and oversized feet.
This conversation matters because I know how long I have lived in bondage to lies about my shape, how long I have allowed my thoughts to be held hostage by a desire for smallness, for a slim waist and the kind of shoulders that might get me noticed. Small without being unseen, an impossible standard that women everywhere clamber toward. How many followers and likes? What photos are boys asking for via DM? What pieces of herself are good and holy and which are to be hidden like a secret? How do we navigate the language and minefield of a world that turns the perfection of her grace on its head.
We shall live, I announce to Adam, unafraid of missteps. Of words fumbled and dropped, of important moments slipping through our fingers. Instead we will cherish our own bodies and treat them kindly, as much as we can. Instead of telling her she cannot have another slice of cake, we remind her to slow down and listen to what her body is telling her. What is it that she really wants? Together we chew more slowly, like a prayer, what do I need? How do I return to my own body and how does she never leave?