We are heading to the Keys for a week-long vacation soon, and so I loaded the kids up late last week to head over to Target for the dreaded bathing suit purchase. Can we all agree that fitting rooms are the devil? The lighting makes me look like an eskimo, the three-paneled circus mirrors make my stretch marks (which I still have, six years later, thankyouverymuch children…) look like deflated balloons, and the super thin partition walls make it easy for everyone to hear me crying. The experience simply can’t be worse.
Or can it?
(Gracie pulled out her tooth this morning and blood immediately went everywhere. She came running into my bedroom and pulled me out of a dead sleep, and then I stood there in the bathroom holding her hair back while she flushed her mouth out. Motherhood is glamorous.)
So, I shove the kids into the family-sized
prison cell fitting room and gave them my phone to play with while I tried on a few swim suits. I had just gotten one on when Gracie casually looks up from the game she was playing on my phone (purely educational, I’m sure…) and says to me, “You look ugly without your clothes on.” And then she went right back to playing her game, as if nothing had happened.
As if she hadn’t kicked me in the gut that I still try to blame on baby weight, even though my kids are in elementary school.
As if she hadn’t knocked all the air out of my sagging chest.
As if she hadn’t mean girled me in those super thin partitioned walls, ensuring that every other woman in there heard my shame.
I have pretty thick skin (actually, it is oddly thick and that sometimes can make me seem aloof and bitchy), but there is not enough thick skin in the world to prepare you for standing in an ill-fitting, cheap mom tankini in a fluorescent lit fitting room while someone criticizes your body.
I put my incredibly hurt feelings aside and immediately went into parenting mode. I snatched my phone away from Gracie and got down right on her level and said in my most serious voice, “We do not talk to people like that, Gracie. That hurts my feelings. I would never say something mean like that to you. You need to apologize to me.”
To her credit, Gracie seemed to immediately realize she had broken some kind of unspoken girl code, and her eyes welled up and she apologized. I wanted to continue rubbing her face in it until I felt better about myself, but I resisted and instead took off the bathing suit, put it back on it’s hanger, and we left.
I don’t know which bothered me more about that moment – that I felt ashamed and embarrassed of my body or that Gracie was capable of saying something so mean without any remorse, other than what she felt when I got on to her. I’ve gotten over the hurt feelings. In fact, I bought myself this super cute bathing suit today, thanks to my high school friend, Annie from “Home of Malones.” Isn’t it cute?! And I’m going to wear it proudly and confidently.
As for Gracie, I talked to her later that night as I tucked her into bed. I explained to her that all bodies are different shapes and sizes and that speaking unkindly to someone about the way that they look is very hurtful to others. We talked about what nice things we can say to people to make them feel good about themselves and about what other people have said to us at different points that made us feel good (“I like when Daddy tells me I look like a mermaid!”). I’m sure the talk could have veered down the “it’s what’s inside that counts” path, but I really wanted Gracie to understand that words have the power to hurt others. We can focus on the body image another day.
We moved on from there and haven’t spoken about it since, though Gracie did make a point to tell me she liked my bathing suit the next morning when I was getting dressed (it was a bra and underwear, but close enough…).
Being a woman is hard. Being a mom is hard. Being a mom raising a little woman in hard. Bathing suit season is hard. Fitting rooms are hard. But you know what’s not hard? Being kind. Saying kind things to other women and girls. Making people feel good about themselves. And that’s a lesson I want my daughter to learn.