Like almost everyone on the planet, I'm spending the holidays with family. Dave and I always come to Florida in December to see my parents, and this year—for the first time ever—my sister and her family are here too.
My sister has two girls, and I absolutely adore both of them, which means I'm thrilled to get some time with them over the holidays.
But sometimes I worry about them.
Today we took my two nieces out for the day, and at one point, my older niece pointed to my middle and said, "You have a big stomach."
I tried to explain that my "big stomach" was a result of my recent surgery, but she was having none of it.
"You look like you're pregnant," she said with a small laugh.
Though many women with fibroids do look pregnant, I really don't, but I do look bloated, and as the daughter of two of the fittest people I know, I could understand why she might make that mistake. So I tried to explain.
The girls already knew that I had my uterus—or as they call it, my "baby holder"—taken out, so I went from there: "I look pregnant because my uterus used to have a whole bunch of tumors in it that stretched my stomach out the same way it would if I had a baby."
"Oh," my niece said. "Okay."
And just to clarify, I added: "It'll probably go back to normal by next summer."
You might be thinking that it was unnecessary for me to go into so much detail with my nine-year-old niece, but I saw this as a "teachable" moment (as much as I hate that overused term): I wanted them to understand that a big tummy does not necessarily have anything to do with being overweight or being unattractive and that they shouldn't assume it does.
And I was glad that I used that moment when I had it because it was only a few hours later when my niece told me that I look twenty years older than my thirty-six-year-old sister (her mother) because I am bigger than she is.
The old me would have been gutted by this comment, but it honestly didn't hurt my feelings. Still, it did bother me on a soci0political level, especially since I know she was also thinking that my sister is also prettier because she's smaller.
Since we were sitting with the whole family when she said it, I decided to discuss the issue with her more later and simply told my niece that size has nothing to do with age. But tomorrow I fully intend to talk to her about her implied connection between size and beauty.
Again, you may think that I should keep my mouth shut or just let it go as kid talk, but I fully believe that if we don't teach the young women in our lives—be they daughters, granddaughters, or nieces—to expand their notion of what kind of women are attractive, then we'll still be talking about these same issues twenty years from now.
No, my niece will never have to worry about her own body image—her genes guarantee that—but she will affect how other women see themselves, and I refuse to sit by and let her continue to go through life with such a narrow definition of beauty.