Growing up Too Fast—by Jamie Levine
Like most women I know, I’ve experienced a myriad of body image issues throughout my life. As a child, I was overweight; then I became an anorexic teen, and later, a young woman who for years struggled with compulsive overeating—and dieting to compensate. Even now that I have a strong, reasonably slim body of which I’m proud, I still experience moments of angst over school-induced-stress binging that can cause my pants to feel a little snug or make my tummy seem to protrude more than I’d like. Therefore, as a mother of a little girl, I’ve always tried to keep Jayda focused on healthy eating, and having a good body image. But I still assumed there would be challenges ahead when she became a tween or teen. Little did I know these challenges would begin before she turned six.
The other day, Jayda got dressed and looked in the mirror and whined, “Mommy, I HATE my eyebrows! They’re too big.” Thinking she was joking, I just chuckled in response.
“Mommy, don’t laugh at me—I mean it!” she continued. “I hate them. They’re ugly.”
“What do you mean your eyebrows are too big, Jayda? They’re perfect.” I assured her. “Everyone says you should be a model.”
“That’s not true! They’re ugly!” she insisted.
“Who told you that?”
“Someone in another class,” she mumbled. “And it’s true!”
“Well you tell her that…”
Jayda interrupted me, “It was a boy!”
“Ohhhh…he probably just likes you and is teasing you.”
“That’s not true, Mommy! My eyebrows make me look ugly.”
“C’mon, beautiful, let’s go downstairs…” I responded.
“Don’t call me that!” she shrieked. And my daughter sullenly followed me out of the room.
I suppose I should be happy Jayda wasn’t looking in the mirror and calling herself “fat,” but this experience still bothered me. It reminded me of how cruel some children can be—and how ones’ self image can be marred by just a few thoughtless, unjustified criticisms. And though I do everything I can to make my daughter feel beautiful and confident, I still remember how ones’ peers can often tear down all the hard work a mother does at building a daughter’s self esteem. I just didn’t think my daughter would be growing up so fast.
Last weekend, Jayda became moody and after arguing with me about something trivial, stomped off upstairs and slammed the door to my room. I ignored her. An hour later, I called her to come downstairs to get ready for a playdate. Jayda complied, and as she was putting on her coat, she paused and said, “Uh oh! I forgot! I’m wearing your bra!” I didn’t ask any questions, just groaned and asked her to please take it off. But inside my head, a voice was shouting, “Stop rushing things, Jayda—you don’t need a bra—and once you do, you won’t want to wear one!” And though it’s often amusing to share stories about my daughter’s overly-mature antics—sneaking out of the house to go to kindergarten with eye shadow on, trying on my bra, and swooning over a six-year-old boy in her class—these episodes do worry me. But all I can do is the best I can do. And that means praising Jayda’s independence and self-confidence, as well as reassuring her when she’s wary, and setting limits when I need to.
A few days after the “eyebrow incident,” Jayda was back to primping and smiling at herself in the mirror. She even exclaimed, “Mommy—don’t I look beautiful in this dress?” “Yes, Jayda, you do,” I easily agreed. I thought about adding, “from your toes to your eyebrows,” but I stopped myself—and couldn’t help thinking how much easier life would be if that little boy in the other class had also thought twice before he spoke to my daughter. But nobody ever said being a mother is easy…especially being the mother of a beautiful, precocious little girl.