A few days after my "These Kids Today" post, I followed up on my promise to talk to my nieces about body image after my older niece made some slightly inappropriate comments about my body.
I waited until we had a few moments alone—when the girls were changing into their pajamas on Christmas Eve—and then told them that even though I was bigger than their mommy that didn't mean I wasn't pretty.
(It was easy for me to say these words to them at this point in my life, but when I said them, I was still well aware how far I've come from the person I used to be, the person who couldn't see herself as remotely attractive, much less pretty, especially when compared to my super fit and adorable blonde sister.)
Immediately, the girls jumped in.
"You are SO pretty," they said, repeating themselves over and over in case I didn't believe them: "You are! You are!"
But I did believe them.
Not just because I have more self-esteem than I've ever had, but because the two of them routinely compliment the way I look. Yes, they had made some inappropriate comments about my size a few days before, but those comments were the exception rather than the rule, which was another reason I wanted to use those remarks to start a larger discussion about women's bodies while I had the chance—for all I knew, they would never say anything like that to me again.
"But I want you to understand that size doesn't have anything to do with beauty," I explained. "Bigger woman can be just as beautiful as smaller women."
"Of course, they can!" the girls both agreed without hesitation.
I could see that this was going to be an easy sell, so I decided to go further, explaining to them in detail how genes work and how our body size is determined more by our parents than by our eating and exercise habits. Of course, little kids never miss an opportunity to use any new situation or experience as a way to get even more information, and it wasn't long before they were asking me if I thought their genes would give them big breasts. I stepped around that minefield as carefully as I could and told them they'd probably look just like their mommy when they grew up, and that seemed to satisfy them.
I also took the opportunity to tell them what I thought of the word "fat"—that it's a word that is normally used in a mean way, so they shouldn't use it. They were nodding and seemed to understand, but I wasn't entirely sure they were still with me.
If I had any doubts about the effectiveness of our talk, they were erased the next day—which just happened to be Christmas—when someone used the word "fat," and my older niece jumped up from her chair and said, "That's a bad word! You shouldn't say that."
I can honestly say that it was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received.