44. A New Message

44. A New Message

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

A New Message

You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?

~Dr. Seuss

“After we’re done grocery shopping, can we get a hot pretzel?” my thirteen-year-old daughter, Julia, asked. I sighed. I knew the question was coming — and the temptation that came along with it.

“I’d be happy to buy you a pretzel, Jules, but I’m not going to get one for myself,” I said.

Her mouth dropped open. “But you love Ben’s hot pretzels dipped in cheese!” she said. “You always say it’s the best part about grocery shopping at this store.”

“I know, honey. I do love them, but I’m not going to eat one this time.”

“Because of your diet?”

I nodded. “Yes. I’ve lost 9 pounds, and I’d like to lose 10 more. But I can’t do it eating hot pretzels dipped in cheese sauce.”

“We can share one,” Julia suggested, with a shrug.

“That’s okay, honey. I don’t need the carbs.”

“But they’re your favorite. Can’t you splurge a little?”

“I’ll splurge after I reach my goal weight.”

We finished shopping, then headed for the hot pretzel stand. My mouth watered as I ordered Julia’s treat. We sat down at a table and Julia tore off a piece of her pretzel. I could tell she was about to offer it to me, so I shook my head quickly.

As she ate, she filled me in on what was happening at school and with her friends. Our conversation turned to social media.

“Do you remember a Disney show called Shake It Up?” she asked. “I used to watch it all the time.”

I nodded. “Yeah. About two teenage girls who were on a dance show?”

“Right,” Julia said. “Well, one of the girls from the show, Zendaya Coleman, is getting pretty famous. She recently got mad because a magazine Photoshopped pictures of her.”

“Why did she get mad? I thought Photoshop made people look better?”

“That’s the problem, Mom. The magazine edited her hips and thighs to make her look thinner, but she is already thin enough. She got mad because she thought the magazine was saying that the real Zendaya wasn’t good enough.”

Julia pulled out her iPhone and Googled the photos, then handed me the phone.

There were two images of Zendaya. One was the original and the other was the edited version. As I compared the two, I felt queasy.

Julia used her finger to point out the obvious: “See how they edited out a bit of fat on her thigh right there and how her hip doesn’t jut out at all in this picture?”

I nodded. “Jules, you’re right. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the original picture. She is a beautiful girl and I can see why she was upset that the magazine did this.”

“Scroll down, Mom,” Julia said. “There’s a quote from Zendaya. She says that by editing her photo, the magazine was sending the wrong message to young girls and creating unrealistic ideals about how we should look.”

I did as Julia asked. I read the words from nineteen-year-old Zendaya about the edits to her photo. She encouraged women to love themselves unconditionally and not to buy into impossible beauty standards.

“She released the real, unedited picture herself, Mom. She didn’t want to be a part of making women feel not good enough about their bodies.”

“She is a smart girl,” I said. “And she sounds like a great role model.” As I uttered the words “role model,” I felt queasy again. What was wrong with me? Here I sat, praising a teenager for being real and loving her body as it was, while I beat myself up over my extra pounds and made it crystal clear to my daughter that good enough meant thin enough.

“She released the real, unedited picture herself, Mom. She didn’t want to be a part of making women feel not good enough about their bodies.”

I was part of the problem.

“Jules, I owe you an apology,” I said, teary-eyed. “Zendaya is right. We should love ourselves no matter what size jeans we wear. Being thin doesn’t equal being happy, and it doesn’t make us more worthy of love. There are many different ways to be beautiful, but Hollywood rarely shows us that.”

Julia smiled and nodded.

“I need to work on accepting myself as I am and be more careful with the messages I send you.”

I grabbed a large piece of her pretzel, dunked it into the cheese sauce, and bit into it, grinning.

“How’s that for a new message? I’ve eaten healthy all day and now I’m going to splurge. Because I love myself and we all deserve a treat sometimes.”

“You know what would send an even better message, Mom?” Jules said, smiling. “If you got your own pretzel!”

I hopped up and ordered a second pretzel. As I ate every last bit of it, I didn’t think about the calories.

I simply enjoyed the treat — and my daughter’s company.

~Diane Stark

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