My Dear Lottie Grace,
I drove home from the gym yesterday in the early dark hours. I was feeling strong and confident, and I suddenly felt an urge to tell you that as a girl in this world, you will likely receive messages about how you should look and your resulting value. I hope you never base your worth on how you look. I hope you are bolstered against the world and impervious to messages of what you should look like or what you should eat. I hope—I think—the world is changing from the diet culture and thin body ideals that I grew up surrounded by, but just in case, there is something I need to tell you.
Before I gave birth to you, there was this tiny nugget of an idea that ate away inside of me. I didn’t like it when people commented on my body. It felt like ownership—like a person had some privilege or dominion over me to be able to make comments and have idle gossip about something that did not belong to them. It gnawed on my self-image. It took away my identity, piece by piece. How presumptuous. How absurd. How completely and totally normal. I felt all these things, but I was a wallflower. A wilting wallflower, silently fighting my own eating disorder every time I passed a mirror, every time I saw a woman or girl fitter or thinner or somehow better at being a woman than myself.
It has taken me years of reflection around food and diet culture to reverse the detrimental cycles of deprivation followed by binging on ‘forbidden’ food. The more I reflected, the more pervasive I realized this diet praise was in my life. Recently a family member declared how good I was when I said I was just too full for dessert. I recall smiling and shrugging. I can still feel the weight of you sitting on my lap in your pink overalls. Your eyes were wide and clear and listening to every word exchanged. The truth? I thought about how I felt, and while I enjoy dessert, I just felt full at the moment. I’m neither good nor bad based on the things I eat. Furthermore, foods aren’t good or bad; they all have value—whether that value may be vitamins and minerals or maybe comfort and warmth. No one and no meal determines your worth. My sweet Lottie Grace, enjoy every last bite of each delicious moment of this life, and when you’ve had enough of anything, it’s okay to get up from the metaphorical table.
I can recall another recent moment in this past cold winter month. We were ensconced in the warmth of another family home. The fire crackled in the background, and I watched from the couch as a family member patted your adorably protruding, sleeper-clad belly and declared, ‘we don’t miss many meals, do we?’ Though the comment had a benign intention, I internally cringed, paused, and said nothing. It is not okay with me for someone to comment on your body—I don’t care if your 15 months old or 15 years old. I fumbled for words in the moment, and under the crushing weight of hurting feelings or making someone else feel awkward, I let a boundary be crossed. I didn’t protect you, and I was plagued with guilt. That guilt twisted and turned inside of me and became this single thought in the days that followed: If I can’t speak up, how will I ever teach you to speak up?
My precious, perfect, miracle of a daughter—you are every ounce of woman you were made to be. There are no looks or comments that can possibly begin to chip away at any piece of who you are. I will learn to speak up because I will go to war for you. I will find my voice because I never want you to lose yours. There are fire and fury and ability running through your veins. Be proud of yourself not for how you look, but for what you can do. Your body is your vehicle to run races and volunteer and turn cartwheels and play make-believe and earn degrees and maybe even give birth to your own daughter someday. No one—not a brother, friend, stranger, or sister—has any right to comment on you in a way that makes you feel less than whole. The world and everyone in it will bombard you with messages of value and worth, so you must hold fast to this one truth—you are a complex miracle of genes and cells and giggles and tantrums. Beneath your hazy halo of curls and gap-toothed grin is a heart and soul that was knit together by God himself.
Love you forever,