Backhanded Compliment

funhouse mirror

A couple of days ago, Ruby and I were hanging out before her school started.  She was sitting on the floor, shoving some small stuffed animals into shoes and pretending they could fly.  The stuffed bunny and duck loved the shoes!  They zoomed around the room, enjoying the smelly confines of their unlikely vehicles.

I sat near her on the floor, stretching out my cranky back.  I was still in my pajamas.  Much easier to contort that way.

“Mom”, Ruby began.  “I have something to tell you.”

I looked up at her, one leg outstretched on the floor.

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but…you’re fatter than me.”

I started laughing.  This, from the girl whose entire ribcage is visible when she changes her shirt.  You can practically see the outlines of her internal organs – liver, spleen, appendix, kidneys.  She’s a darling little thing.  She looks a little like a mini  Audrey – Tautou or Hepburn.  She has that gamin quality.

I continued to stretch.  I tried to keep a straight face.

Ruby pressed on.  Obviously, Mom wasn’t getting it!

“Actually, you’re WAY fatter than me.”

Yep.  In her universe of 40-pound people, I am.  I’m morbidly obese.  I probably need medical intervention.

My turn now.

“Ruby”, I said, knowing the importance of nipping this in the bud, “I’m not as skinny as you and Zac.  I never was  as a child.”

“Were you as fat as Ernestine?” she asked, a (fictional) friend of hers.

“Yes, I was, when I was 9 or 10.  But the point is that people are made differently.  I’m not fat.  I’m curvy and I’m strong.  I’m never going to look like you, and that’s okay.  I like how I look.”

Thinking back, I hope I remembered to say it’s not alright to call people fat.  Labels and categorizing people based on their shape isn’t kind, helpful or necessary.  We may look different outside, but we all have feelings.

We spoke about it again this morning, over cereal in front of the gas fireplace.

“Ruby, do you think you’re better than other people because you’re so thin?” I asked.

She thought for a moment.

“No,” she replied.

“Good,” I said.  “Because you’re not.”

This comparison game starts so young.  I know, because I played it for years and years.  Girls become Jedi masters of this junk. We pick ourselves apart.  We pick others apart.   I’m finally off that merry-go-round and I’m not buying another ticket to ride.  If Ruby had said that to me a few years ago, I would have been devastated.  Sometimes, the mouths of babes hold barbs.  The dagger didn’t hit its target this time.  And I’m glad.


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