Measuring up

February 24,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Not long ago, I was at Starbucks waiting for a friend. It was an unseasonably balmy day for February, so I was sitting outside, enjoying the sun and the warm breeze. A few minutes later two young college girls came and sat at the table next to me. They were both tall and thin, with those straight up and down, sinewy bodies that all those other clothes out there are made for--you know, those skinny jeans and tight layered shirts. I couldn't help eavesdrop a little on their conversation. They were talking in a gossipy way about a friend of theirs, who was having problems with her back. Girl 1: So (the friend) went to the doctor last week about her back. Girl 2: Really? What'd he say to her? Girl 1: He told her all she needs to do is lose some weight! Girl 2 gasps: What! Really? Girl 1: She needs to lose about ten pounds. Girl 2, leaning in so she can really get the scoop: How much does she weigh? Girl 1, loudly and distinctly: 130 POUNDS! Can you imagine that? (Um, yes) At that point I almost choked on my cappuccino. I wished, not for the first time, that I was one of those feisty, funny, uninhibited people who knows just what to say at the right times and doesn't care one whit about saying it. I'm not one of those people, though, so I stayed quiet. But inside I ached for those girls--both the two at the table next to me, and for the poor friend, who was being talked about (I ached a little for me, too). I ached for my T. and for all the angst that will lie ahead of her; all the measuring and counting and wishing and self-loathing that goes along with being a teenage girl. It seems an inevitable rite of passage, almost. I wish it didn't have to be, but I know no matter how hard we support our girls, teach them self-esteem, encourage them to have a positive body image, there will still be the judgments, the self-doubts. I ached for young and not-so-young girls everywhere who look in the mirror and see regret, or disappointment, or hatred, even. What did I want to say to those girls? I wanted to be a crazy lady--the kind of person who would pull up the chair next to them and sit right down. Look, I wanted to say to them. Maybe you'll look just like this in ten or twenty years, but maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have one or two or three or more children and you'll stand in front of a mirror some morning and marvel at the new curves that have sprung up, here and there, in places you never had curves before. Maybe you'll feel a twinge of regret, and loss, for the body you once had, but it will be okay--trust me. Just stay healthy. Eat right. Exercise. Be kind. Be strong. Love yourself-- because if you don't, who will?