My daughter is starting ballet next Tuesday. A month of lessons, plus all her garb, were my parents’ big gift to her for her birthday. We visited the academy yesterday and she’s excited (therefore I’m excited).
I’ll admit here and now she has the body of a dancer. Long, lithe, tall, thin…she most assuredly has the physical form.
But she’s (just barely) 7. Her physique has nothing to do with ballet or her desire to take dance. It’s about the experience, about having an activity that is hers, about having fun. She wants to dance. This is her choice. The fact that the child’s legs seem to stop somewhere around her neck has nothing to do with her being in ballet.
Do we all understand?
So what does my well-intentioned mother-in-law say the second she finds out that SG is ballet dancing?
“Well she looks like a ballet dancer! So skinny! Such long legs! She’ll be a wonderful dancer.”
:::headdesk::: :::headdesk::: :::headdesk:::
I redirected the conversation away from discussion of body and weight and summarily dispatched SG to go play. I may have said something about her having fun or…something. To be honest I was focused on not reaching out and strangling the words “skinny” out of my MIL’s throat.
Were SG a pudgy little first grader still sporting a baby fat belly and cheeks, would we discourage her from dancing? Nope. Would those attributes be pointed out? Nope. Should her physical appearance ever, ever, ever prevent her from doing anything she wants? NO. NO. NO.
Oh, and let’s not forget that SG’s mom (aka, yours truly) nearly killed herself with an eating disorder. Encouraging my child to be preoccupied with her body image is a very bad thing.
Mr. G will be having a chat with his parents’ soon (right, hon?) about stopping that shit in its entirety. His mom has a tendency to focus on SG’s physical attributes, and I’ve always countered with non-physical stuff. It’s always bothered me but I’ve never felt like it was overtly damaging and we don’t spend that much time with his parents so I’ve let it go.
Consider the emergency brake engaged.
Look, you don’t, you just don’t, say things like that to a child. Any child- boy or girl. You don’t comment on how skinny they are, how chubby they are, how pretty they are, etc. If we expect- and want- our children to tell societal expectations to fuck off, we’d better start practicing what we preach.
You tell them they’re smart, interesting, creative, thoughtful, loving, kind, fun, sweet, special, important…the adjective list is endless. They will believe those things, those very wonderful attributes. If a little girl constantly hears how pretty and thin she is, she will eventually believe those are the most important things about herself. If a little boy hears how strong and handsome he is, he will believe that those are the most important things about himself.
Of course I tell my children they’re adorable. Of course. But I also make a very concentrated effort to extol their other (numerous) (amazing) (wonderful) virtues.
Is superficial nonsense really, really what we want our children being invested in?