“‘You know,’ the preteen boy said, ‘short hair, glasses, kinda chubby?’ and everyone giggled.
I didn’t hear him say it. I wasn’t there for it. Thankfully my oldest daughter, Sadie, didn’t hear it when it was said either. Even though we weren’t there, we were both victims to those words when my younger daughter told us about what happened.
I was driving with Sadie in the front seat beside me. I wasn’t even paying attention to the banter going on between my girls until something triggered my attention. Maybe it was the word chubby. Maybe it was divine intervention. Maybe it was my lost thoughts naturally trailing back to the car. I don’t know why I started retracing the words that had just floated into the middle of my SUV, but I was literally jarred by the recognition of them. I turned off the radio and asked my middle daughter to repeat what she said.
‘You know, short hair, glasses, kind of chubby.’
In the front seat, my daughter’s shoulders sunk, and her eyes went blank as she stared down at the dash. We both spent a moment internalizing the words and trying to make sense of what was going on. My brain rushing through a rolodex of questions. Who said it? Who laughed? Why are you telling us this?
Kind of chubby . . .
Those words reached down into my body, grabbed my heart with a fierce grip and punched me in the stomach. I looked frantically to my daughter sitting beside me searching for a clue to her understanding and I said a prayer for the right way to respond.
My daughter is one of the tallest in her grade. She grew over three inches last year. She is growing and maturing faster than many girls her age. I really want to justify the idea that she may be carrying some extra weight around right now with the science that says that on average children gain between 20 and 40 pounds between ages 11-14. And the beginning of the growth velocity that occurs during puberty starts at age 9 for girls. But those are sidebars.
Those statistics don’t matter because what that boy saw and what those friends thought was a funny description have nothing to do with her as a person. I could deny the description by explaining that my daughter prefers salads to fried chicken sandwiches. She asks for vegetables at dinner. She doesn’t like sodas. But that would be giving too much validation to the description. Because it’s not the term chubby that I am so angry about. I’m angry that instead of those children seeing a little girl with a big heart. Instead of seeing that she suffers from debilitating anxiety but marches confidently into the world each day. Instead of seeing her kindness, her belief in the good in people, or the way that she feels the pain of others as her own. That boy reduced her down to a word. He did it in front of her friends. He did it to get a laugh out of his audience. He succeeded.
I will never forget the shame and fear in her eyes as she looked up at me and asked, ‘Am I?’. Those kind brown eyes searched my face for the truth.
I work so hard to create a healthy framework for body image. I don’t weigh myself anymore because I saw the way that it impacted the way I viewed my own self-worth. I recognized the need to lead by example in teaching my daughters that they are more than the measure of the scale. I promote moderation and balancing our diets. But in that moment a preteen boy threatened all of that conscious, hard work when he mocked my daughter for the amusement of his friends. ‘Chubby’ is not and will never be a measure of her worth. Her worth isn’t tallied from the measure of the scale or that of the ruler. Her worth innate. So that day in the car, that is what I clung to. I told her that she is healthy. She is strong. She is tall. And I made her look at her arms and see the muscles that are starting to build. I pointed out the strength of the legs that were going to carry her through the ballet class that we were heading to. I reminded her of the gentle ways that she loves on her sisters. I asked her to tell me three things that she is proud of. Because I refused to linger on chubby. She is more than a word. We all are.
A few days later I was chatting with a friend about what had happened. I was still reeling and attempting to sort through my feelings about that car ride. ‘Chubby is not a bad word’, I said. ‘There are words with much more venom built into them’. My friend nodded and said ‘It’s the weight behind the word’ that gives it so much power. A baby’s thigh is adorably chubby. But that is a far cry from the ‘short hair, glasses, kinda chubby’ that was thrown around on the driveway that day.
Our words have power.
Check the weight behind them.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tiffany Lyle, 38, of Georgia. Follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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