I didn't go all crazy-eyed intense like I did the last time my beautiful seven year old daughter invited me to a conversation about beauty, body, and what it means to be a girl in this culture.
She was standing in front of the full-length mirror in her room and she put her hands around her thigh. "My legs are fat."
Like Jack Shepherd allowing himself to the count of five to experience the terror of a mistake in the operating room, I inwardly counted to five to allow myself a moment to push down the freak out.
"Hmmmm," I said. "Why do you think that?"
"My friends legs go straight up like this" - she pantomimed a long, skinny leg with her hands - "but mine go like this" - she ran her hands from her knee to the top of her thigh, accentuating the curve of her leg muscle.
"Well, I'd say your legs look like mine. I like my legs. My legs are really, really strong." I got up and traced my hands over my thighs like she had done. "Remember that 10K race I ran a few years ago? These legs carried me every step of the way for over six miles! Yep. I love having strong legs."
It's a strange fact about my body. I am not at all naturally athletic, but my legs have always insisted on a different story. From high school onward, friends and strangers alike have asked if I was a dancer or if I played softball, asking this based on my enormously muscular legs. I was never a dancer, I never played softball, I was far more often found engrossed in a book or indulging in daydreams than you would ever find me on a ball field or a stage.
And though Dacey looks exactly like her father, she has inherited my build.
And so it doesn't matter if I still cannot believe that I'm having these conversations with my first grader (first grade!), it doesn't matter if I would rather bury my head under a pillow and pretend she isn't growing up, and it doesn't matter if I would rather just say "We don't call ourselves fat in this house!" and leave it at that.
I'm the one who has walked this path ahead of her. I'm the one who knows what it is to study my reflection in the mirror and frown. I'm the one with the muscular legs who has to work so hard at anything at athletic. And I'm the one she'll turn to now and in the future (I hope) with her most private insecurities and deep-down beliefs about herself.
When I was growing up, I would ask my mother if she thought I was beautiful. She always, always answered the same thing: "Beauty is as beauty does." And I know, oh how I KNOW she believed the best thing she could do for me was to accentuate inner character over outward appearance, but oh, how my girl-heart so longed to hear my mother say, "YES! Yes, Megan. You are beautiful." And I don't think that makes me vain. I think that makes me woman.
So we stood side-by-side in front of the mirror in her room, and instead of serious eyes, I was smiling and showing off some kick-boxing moves. And I was saying, "You've got STRONG legs. And I'm glad you do. You are one strong chica, Dacey Allyse. Super strong! Now show me your best kick!"
"Moooooooom!" but she was giggling and we were laughing and kicking our strong legs at invisible forces and gosh, I hope I'm doing this right.