When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves
Someone in my daughter's circle has been using the term 'fat', as a criticism, and she has tried it out at home. In that way that children do sometimes, when they’ve caught on to something that they know has a whiff of sulphur. They say it, sometimes it’s almost a mumble, and then look at you speculatively, to see what effect they are having. How you react.
The first time she said it, it threw me. Having your four-year-old use that word pejoratively is upsetting. It’s too soon for them to be aware of the way women’s bodies are policed. Taken unawares, I had to pull a strategy out of thin air.
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It was based on two things, this made-up-on-the-spot strategy. One, I do not want her critiquing her own body. I know it will happen eventually (as it does to all of us), but not yet. Two, I do not want her using the term fat as an insult, or a criticism.
So I did two things. She is a Beyoncé fan; we dance around the living room to her. You know how Beyoncé is such a good dancer? I asked her. Big thighs (thighs having been the area she was testing this new concept out on). She couldn’t do all that dancing, that jumping up and down, without big, strong thighs.
I’m not sure that holding up Beyoncé as a standard was the best move; god knows none of us is going to live up to that, and it did end up with us watching one of her videos which then led to us twerking around the house, but I was thinking on the hoof. And it got her thinking about what our bodies do, rather than how they look.
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Part two of my strategy – I showed her the Instagram account of Louise McSharry. I knew that my daughter, a big fan of make-up, and of dressing up, would love Louise. She did. The first picture was Louise at an event, wearing a beautiful black tulle creation. "Wow", my daughter gasped, stroking the picture. We scrolled across to the next one – even better, Louise wearing pink eyeshadow.
"That is Louise, she describes herself as fat," I told her. "Really?" My girl said, clearly baffled. Because whoever had been using the word to her had done it as a criticism. And yet, Louise was clearly fabulous.
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As a single parent, no matter how amicable you may be co-parenting, the burden of your child’s wellbeing can feel, well, extra burdensome. There is no second parent there to talk you down from whatever fear spiral you’ve gone off on about how your child will fare out there. But this body stuff, it feels like one I can handle.
I was eighteen before I remember first critiquing my own body. We wore Wonderbras when we were thirteen, the best friend reminded me when I said this to her recently. I think that’s different though, that’s more about wanting to be a grown up before you really are.
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Critiquing the size of your body is not the same thing. I was in my mid-twenties before I remember coming across the idea of food as a thing you might be bad or good about – younger women in my office saying they’d had a bad day, because they had eaten certain things.
My mother never critiqued her body, and food was just food, in her house. And I will pass this on to my one.
Photo: James Wheeler via Unsplash
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