I knew the only way I'd be able to shop in my closet for an outfit to wear that night would be to involve my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
"A!" I called with conspiratorial glee, "Wanna help Mommy pick out her clothes for tonight?"
Lady A was overjoyed. I was going to see Alvin Ailey perform, and I needed something festive and sassy. I began pulling tops and pants out of my closet.
"That's pretty! What about that?" Lady A asked, pointing at a flouncy turquoise mid-calf length skirt.
I pulled it down. I didn't have a sweater or footwear to go with it. With a scarf, I strapped the skirt on Lady A and let her pretend to wear a ball gown for a while.
"I like this!" Lady A then pointed to a summery pink and white knee length skirt totally inappropriate for the frigid March evening.
"That’s nice, but I'll freeze!" I said. "I can't wear that!"
Then I saw something PERFECT. A black leather skirt that fell to just about the knee. I'd wear printed black tights, a ruffled sweater, and my heeled boots.
"I've got it!" I told my daughter. I reached for the skirt and tried to pull it on. I tugged and tugged but it wouldn't go past my thighs. My have-always-been-bigger-than-I'd-like thighs. My daughter watched expectantly.
"Oh dear." I tried to seem unfazed. "I can't get these on. Guess I've gained some weight."
"Yeah, Mommy," Lady A giggled.
We stood before each other, keeping our thoughts to ourselves.
She might have only been three, but I knew my daughter knew that a woman being too big to fit in her own skirt was not a good thing. Somehow she was sensitive enough to see that I was unhappy and embarrassed, and didn’t say something like, "Mommy! You have a big boonda!"
Had I been alone I would have stood before the mirror slapping my haunches and hating on myself. "Look at this fatty, fat, fat ASS! What happened to me? I used to be so tiny and now I’m like a manatee! What am I going to doooooooooooo?"
Instead I admitted my faults. "I guess Mommy has been eating too much,” I said. “Mommy has to eat better foods."
The pile of clothes on the bed kept growing with potential outfits before I gave up and decided to go with my go-to winter ensemble – an A-line grey sweater dress over a fitted black turtleneck and leggings with mid-calf, black heeled boots. It wasn't the super cutola ensemble I'd hoped for, but it worked.
As for Lady A, I'm relieved that I never called myself the “f” word and kept my body frustration to myself. While of course I hope and pray that it never happens, Lady A has plenty of time for the world to instill in her the "desirable" look and measurements of the female body.
That madness cannot come from me.
I never want my daughter to know that while I don't exactly think I'm fat, that at any given moment I see myself as 5-10 pounds shy of my goal weight. And happiness.
And I never want her think that a natural part of being a woman is living in a chronic low-grade fever of body dissatisfaction.
Right now Lady A's little body is an enviable blend of my athletic musculature and her dad's long and lean limbs. We don't know if this will be her body type forever, but even if it isn't, Lady A must know that no one, including herself, should love her any less because her body changes into something that the screens and magazines and billboards say is not okay.
However, I do want her to understand that if maintaining a certain physique is important to her, eating moderately and exercising regularly is the answer, not self-loathing.
I want my daughter to believe in her beauty and to love herself.
Given our histories, our beliefs, our education, and all we know about beauty and how the world works, we mothers don't have an easy job modeling positive body image.
Still, we have to demonstrate confidence in our bodies like it's our job.
Because it is.