Truth and Drumsticks by Pauline M. Campos

“It’s time to exercise, baby,” I call to Buttercup. “Did you want to play or workout with Mama?”‘

She’s in the playroom she has dubbed her “magical land,” but immediately joins me at my side and waits for the DVD to cue up.

“Are we going to get healthy and strong?”

I smile. “Exactly.”

When I was a baby, my thighs were so chubby that one of my aunts used to eat them like drumsticks. It’s a story I heard often when I was growing up, usually told with the requisite giggles from my mother and a pinch on my legs from whomever else was within reach. I thinned out as I grew, but I never thought myself skinny. Instead, “big” was how I classified my body. “Big” because I was five feet tall at eight years old. The same height as my mother and almost every other adult woman in my family. “Big” as in not dainty with curves that snuck up on me when I was 12 and muscle definition that would have put me in the “athletic” category. But that word didn’t exist in the Spanglish craziness my family resided in. Instead, children were scolded for not finishing what was on their plate and reprimanded for needing to watch what they were eating—usually in the same breath.

I remember vividly the day my father noticed my new set of hips. I weighed 156 pounds and stood 5-foot 6-inches tall. I wore a size 10 and only now realize I only thought that was a bad thing because my mother never shut up about the size 6 she could still squeeze into after five kids. If I could wake up with that body today?

A’ye, M’ijita.

My father, who stood no taller than me, pinched the curve of my hip.

“You need to lose some weight.”

I started making myself throw up after watching a news special about a woman caring for eating disordered girls in her revolutionary treatment center. The point of the special was to enlighten and educate on the dangers of eating disorders and the needs of those suffering. I took it as a how-to manual.

Sometimes I wonder if my actions are the cause of the body I see in the mirror today. The hypoactive thyroid. The polycystic ovarian syndrome. The number on the scale. I was skinny before when I thought I was fat. Just because I was the only set of ethnic hips in the sea of curveless white wonders at school, I thought that meant I needed to better control what I was eating. And because I had failed at being an anorexic previously, the consolation prize was closet bulimia. If I didn’t have the control to not eat, I could at least force my body to get rid of the evidence.

I should have just opened my eyes.

My daughter is three and often confused for a five-year-old. She’s built like her father’s side of the family: tall and lean. My nickname for her is “Little.” And I skip the word “fat” when it’s included in any of the books I read to her.

“”She’s so big for her age,” strangers often say when they realize how young she actually is. I always smile and gently correct them, whether or not she is paying attention.

“Yes,” I say, “She’s very tall.”

We eat clean: no processed sugar, no processed foods, and are gluten free, to boot. For dessert, she’ll choose watermelon over an ice cream sundae. (At least for now.) And because I can’t control what the rest of the world says or what she will hear, I try to sidestep any of the emotional triggers adults verbalized when I was a kid.

If she refuses to eat a meal after two bites of food, instead of force-feeding, I simply ask if she would like a cookie. If she says yes, I tell her that she has room for more of her meal first. If she says no, I believe her and take her plate away. I never criticize my own body in front of her. And I never diet. Instead, we all eat what’s best for our bodies.

And exercise?

Maybe the truth behind the sweat and the time commitment is that I would like to lose a few more pounds and firm up my muffin-top belly. Maybe I’d like to feel as beautiful as my husband tells me I am (and sometimes, I do). But I’ll be damned if I say any of that out loud to a three-year-old who thinks it’s funny to arch her back and stick her belly out after a good meal.

We are exercising to get healthy and strong.

And one of these days, after saying it enough to her, maybe I will believe that myself.

Pauline M. Campos is wife to The Husband, mother to “Buttercup,” and has decided that it’s time to make peace with her cellulite. Pauline has always known she was going to be a writer and finally got tired of hearing The Husband ask when she was going to make him rich, so she finally stopped dreaming and started doing. She got started in newspapers and served as city editor for a few local papers before hitting the big time at The Detroit News and freelancing for the Metro-Detroit based Metro Parent Magazine before taking a break after baby. She’s a featured blogger at www.owningpink.com and blogs weekly at the nationally recognized fitness support site www.bookieboo.com where she also serves as an editor. Oh right, and her own blog? That’s www.aspiringmama.com. You’re welcome. She’s also pretty sure God made her lactose intolerant because she refused to stop chewing her ice cream.

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  • You said everything here I’ve been trying to articulate to myself in regards to my two little daughters. Today I said something about potato chips not being on my diet and my 5 yo asked me what that meant. I said it sarcastically because I used to be on a diet 24/7, but now I eat good foods so I can be “healthy and strong.” This is such an important message, Pauline! Thank you for this post!

  • You said everything here I’ve been trying to articulate to myself in regards to my two little daughters. Today I said something about potato chips not being on my diet and my 5 yo asked me what that meant. I said it sarcastically because I used to be on a diet 24/7, but now I eat good foods so I can be “healthy and strong.” This is such an important message, Pauline! Thank you for this post!

  • Aspiringmama

    Mary, I love my mother but (and isn’t there always a BUT) she never censored what she said in regards to weight regarding herself or others. Obviously, it left an unintentional mark on who I grew up to be and how I perceive the world and my place in it. I can’t say I am doing everything right with Buttercup, and I won’t pretend that I am. But in this sense, I am proud of the effort I am putting in to put her emotional needs before my emotional baggage. Good luck to you on the same front with your daughters.

  • Excellent post, Pauline!

  • Adam Slade

    An excellent post, and a great way to bring up your youngest. Yay, Pauline!

    Adam

    • Pauline

      Adam, she is my one and only. At least for now. And I’m doing my best to provide minimal fuel for future therapy bills. I say that half joking but feel free to concetrate on the funny side of that thought.

  • This was great!  You’re a good mamma.

    • Pauline

      Hugs and thanks for the vote of confidence.

  • Amy

    Excellent thoughts to chew on, for the mind can never hold enough. Thanks, Pauline!

    • Pauline

      Thanks, Amy. And I love the sentiment. —-Pauline

  • You rock! My dad would alternate between weird “hubba hubba” type comments and fat innuendo when I was a teen. One of his comments about a turtleneck sweater looking “so cute with my fat little round face” put them out of my wardrobe for over 20 years. You are doing Buttercup a world of good and saving out a little portion for the rest of us. Thank you for that!

    • Pauline campos

      Terri-I am Probably screwing up something royally and won’t know It till she is writing her own essays about how she is trying to undo and not do whatever it is I did. But for now, I’ll just focus on what I know. And that means she gets a healthy body image. —Pauline

  • Fabulous essay, full of truth and wonder. Thank you.

    • Aspiringmama

      Lisa, thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate it!

  • I really enjoyed this!  Your essay resonated with me because I have also spent (am still spending?) too much time hating my body and none at all appreciating it.  Now that I’m about to have my own child, I’m trying to figure out how I can prevent him or her from picking up a negative body image, whether it’s from me or from our culture and society.  I was relieved to know I’m not alone in this, and happy to find some great suggestions.  Maybe my little one and I can develop great body images together!  Thanks for a great read.

    • thank you for reading and commenting, jodie! I still do it too.
      internally, mind you, but i know I need to rewire my brain so my
      daughter doesn’t pick up on that part of my thinking. it’s hard to break
      the cycle but it’s worth the effort. congrats on your coming baby!

  • Anonymous

    This is a beautiful post. There are so many ways we can hate ourselves; it’s so much easier than loving what we’ve been given. Good for you for trying to spare your daughter what you went through.

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