And Now, the Part Where My Daughter Starts Hating Her Bootylicious Butt

So there's this study out by Glamour magazine that says women, on average, have at least 13 negative thoughts about their bodies during the course of the day one for every waking hour.That sounds about right. Why, I had at least four during the 15 minute stretch between the time I got out of bed and the time I towel dried after my shower:

 

Me looking in the mirror: Your skin looks horrid what's with all the dark spots?

Me brushing my teeth: Dude, you gotta go get some teeth whitening stat.

Me on the scale: Ugh. For the next week, you need to eat air. Nothing else. Just air.

Me after my shower: Well damn. Remember when your thighs were juicy but reasonably thin and your stomach was stretchmark-less? Blame Mari and Lila for the travesties. Oh, and pull out the fat jeans.

Of course, if some man namely, my husband Nick had said any of this to me, I would have shanked him spouse-style: no clean underwear, home-cooked meals or nookie for, like, ever. And he would have been gotten a nice, terse phone call from my divorce attorney. Still, knowing full well that no one should ever say such things to any woman, I let those thoughts about my own self invade my brain virtually every time I pass by a mirror, sans repercussion.

What's worse is that my baby, Mari, is doing this, too. At age 11.

Curious about what they truly think about their bodies, I asked my daughters if they ever think bad thoughts about themselves during the course of the day. Lila, a.k.a. Hollywood, gave me an emphatic no. Apparently, she's perfect just the way she is and believes it to the core. This is a good thing. I think. Until, of course, her head doesn't fit through the door.

But when I asked Mari the same question if she has negative thoughts about herself she looked up from her homework and said, quietly, earnestly, emphatically: Yes.

Me: Really?

Mari: Yes.

Me: What do you say?

Mari: Well, when I get dressed in the morning, I always think my butt is too big.

Me: Long. Blank. Stare.

I mean, hearing that shook me to the core. And hurt like hell. Because I thought I'd been working overtime to make both of my daughters believe that they are perfect just the way they are a process that began before they were even born. When Mari was in my belly and a sonogram revealed that she was a girl, I vowed to make sure she could see her beautiful brown self reflected in on the walls of her love-filled room. Back then, baby décor featuring black children was scant (still is, really; when's the last time you saw, say, a picture frame, bed spread or growth chart decorated with brown ballerinas?) and so I ended up making a border of picture frames filled with pictures of her family on the wall next to her crib. And when she was born, I filled her bookshelves with picture books written by and featuring people of color, and let her fall asleep to lullabies sung by the likes of Kathleen Battle, Stevie Wonder, and Donny Hathaway. So she could feel her people deep down in her little soul. So she could know for sure that her color, her flavor, her heritage, her history is astoundingly, unapologetically beautiful.

Despite the  black is beautiful indoctrination, we faced our battles; it took for what seemed like forever to get her to learn how to love her hair. And I've worked overtime to get my babies to appreciate their bodies, because Lord knows I didn't want them to face the storm of harassment and ridicule that nearly broke me when I was an impressionable little girl.

Still, somehow, all the cheerleading I've done on behalf of my babies means nothing when my 11-year-old, curvy and bootylicious and thick like me, pulls on her jeans in the morning. She's decided in her young mind that  having a booty and thick thighs is a problem a problem exasperated, I'm sure, by the fact that she's surrounded by other 11-year-old girls who are thinner and decidedly less bootylicious and who, in turn, can still fit into the cute-but-smaller cut clothing in the children's departments and uber popular tween stores like Justice.

But how do I switch her mindset on this? How do I tell my 11-year-old that, ironically, the very thing she hates about herself is the very thing that will get her lots of attention positive but, in some cases, unwanted when she's a teenager and the boys start smelling themselves and get up the nads to speak to her in an, I'm a guy and I think you're cute and we should kick it kind of way?  I mean, I don't let her watch BET or listen to sexually-suggestive hip hop or R&B music and so, quite conceivably, she's not really aware yet of the black male obsession with big booties that really, at the base of it, having junk in her trunk is agood thing. (BTW: According to the March issue of Allure, big butts currently are a national male obsession, no matter the race. Shout out to J-Lo , Kim Kardashian and them.) And frankly, that's not really the message I'm trying to pass on to my 11-year-old, who is still, thankfully, happy to be a little girl and not some over-sexualized Venus Hottentot.

Still, I want her to appreciate her gift to not obsess over it like I did when I was a little girl and my mother tried her best to get me to hide it and my best friend's mom called me fat because of it and I felt awful about the size of a part of my body that, no matter what I did, would not get smaller.

I'm trying to find the words the appropriate ones for my tween. Somehow, appreciate and feel good about your body, no matter what feels so trite. Mari is smarter than that and way more thoughtful. I have to make the words count. And hell, I'm stuck.

So what say you, oh wise and wonderful moms: What specific words should I say to my baby to get her to release that inner mean girl who keeps nagging her about her curvy figure?

[Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on the MyBrownBaby page of Parenting.com’s The Parenting Post. While I usually upload only a piece of my Parenting Post essays here and ask that your read the rest over on Parenting, I felt compelled to upload this particular post in its entirety on MyBrownBaby so that MBB faithfuls could really help me get to the bottom of this delicate and serious dilemma of mine. Check it, and tell me what you would do if you were in my shoes…]

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

23 Comments

  1. I know what I wish someone had told me as a tween: that everybody was going through the same thing. That I wasn’t alone; that even those girls that had everything I thought I wanted thought negatively about themselves or some part of their body. I wish that when I went shopping with my mom that she took my insecurity seriously, and didn’t say the things you’ve (correctly) identified as trite. I wish that someone would just listen to me talk about it and not try to make me feel better.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      And isn’t that what we all want—for someone to “just listen” to us “talk about it and not try to make us feel better?” I love this. And you’ve got a GREAT point. I’ve started the conversation with her, but I’ve already broken this specific girl code by telling her how she should feel, instead of letting her tell me how SHE feels. Thanks for this, sis.

  2. hmmm. Well, I had the opposite problem. I am top heavy as they say. I hated the girls for years….and even now we have our days (mostly when I want to wear something that is not made for “busty” women). My turning point was high school. When boys started to notice me and the rest of me sorta caught up (read –> hips). It’s shallow and stupid but I realized I had something special.
    When I was younger I just never would have saw my breasts as a good thing. I wasn’t breast feeding or wearing revealing clothes (parents didn’t play!) I had no reason to see them as anything but a hinderance to me playing sports.

    I would let her go through it and just listen (similar to how you would for a girlfriend….although it’s obviously different). Maybe let her find clothes that make her feel good so she doesn’t worry about her perceived problem.

    The one thing I wouldn’t do is remind her how great the specific body part is or how she will love that butt one day. TRUST ME it will only make it worse. I felt like the women in my family were obsessed with how lucky I was to have “cleavage”….thus making the situation worse and embarrassing. trite, indeed!

  3. Denene@MyBrownBaby

    THIS: “I felt like the women in my family were obsessed with how lucky I was to have ‘cleavage’… thus making the situation worse and embarrassing. Trite, indeed!”

    You’re absolutely right. If it’s something you hate and you’re a little girl, you’re not necessarily going to get the whole, “Girl, you lucky! Stop complaining!” And really, is that the message I want to send my 11-year-old anyway? Nope! Thanks for pointing that out…

  4. I wish I had some words of wisdom, my eldest being a boy, I never had these issues when he was a tween. But I know with my girl we most likely will go through this when she hits the tweens especially as we live in a predominantly white area and already she is dropping hints comparing herself to others…right now its the hair thing.

    I think I would make my daughter aware that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and they are neither good or bad, they simply are bodies. I know as someone who struggles with weight and can be highly self critical I have been actively working to stop the negative self talk because kids especially the girls are aware of it even when we think we have hid it well.

    That said I remember being self conscious of my own butt at a tween (who am I kidding? I am still am, every time I wear leggings or jeggings I question that choice but comfort wins out) and I think part of it is unavoidable but we can acknowledge how they feel and steer them to not focus on it as much.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      “Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and they are neither good or bad, they simply are bodies.” I really like that part. But isn’t it human to compare? I know a part of her thinking that a big butt is bad is because she’s around a bunch of little girls who don’t have her size booty. The other part comes from her having to wear grown-up pants because she can’t fit into kids’ clothes anymore. These things make it hard not to focus on it. But this is most certainly worth saying to her—focusing on this really isn’t necessary in the scheme of things…

  5. It’s funny, when my now 16 year old was about 10 she said she could not stand her butt. This went on for about 5 years. She would tell me she wished she could have a butt like mine (non-existent). So my child was born straight out the womb with some booty. She went through some teenage phase where her eating habits changed and so did her weight. Her once bootylicous butt shrunk! Now she has the nerve to complain about the fact that she wants her big butt back. Sadly she figured out just how much dudes dig big booties *sighs*

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      HA! I tell my husband all the time that had I known how important having a curvy figure was to black boys when I was younger and I grew up somewhere where they actually appreciated said curves, I’d have had at least 40 babies by now. Maybe it’s a blessing that she lost it! LOL!

      • LOL! I grew up always wanting curves and a donk. And I was willing to do anything to get one. I now think back to those days… if I were thick or did “those things” that are supposed to make me thick, I may have more than just one baby right now too. It’s funny, but sad at the same time…

        I’m still working on that donk, doggonit! Hubby’s says I’m perfect, but I’m doing this for me!

  6. I work with tweens and teens, and one thing is, that they all have some kind of angst. My butt is too big, not enough, no breasts, I’m poor, need new Uggs, whatever.
    I remind them regularly that our perfection lies in our ability to accept our imperfections. They make us who we are. Our job is not to try to look like anyone else, but to be our best selves. Then I give them a hug and tell them that I know it’s stressful, but that one day, one day, they will get what I mean.
    I hate the idea that any child will think less of themselves, especially for having curves, but I also believe that this is how we develop confidence. By having moments of doubt.
    Tell her about photoshop. Remind her that the pics she sees of people are retouched, that everyone has something wrong: too many pimples, cellulite, can’t run as fast as she does, or as cute a smile as she does. I think it’s not about minimizing what you don’t like, it’s about maximizing what you do.
    I’d also show her pics of Black female athletes. They tend to have big butts, and instead of using them to bring the boys to the yard, they use them to show power and physical prowess. They compete with the boys, not for them.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Eve: THANK YOU for this. I did need reminding that this is a teen/tween “thing” and if it weren’t her curves, it would be something else. I guess I take it personally because I STRUGGLED with the same thing for what seems like forever. And I don’t want her to go through the same thing. But it is helpful to remember that this IS a part of developing confidence. And ALL THE WAY YES to reminding her about what her body can do; she’s an athlete and her body is shaped like that of one. This: “They compete with the boys, NOT FOR THEM.”

      I love that.

  7. Sorry, I don’t have any words of wisdom, but I’m listening to you and your readers. I have a 9 year old daughter and while she is not curvy yet or not (to my knowledge) unhappy with any part of her body, I know it’s coming because sadly, most tweens/teens go through that stage. I try to watch my language while talking about my body or any body and try to focus on “being healthy” rather than a certain body type or shape. She LOVES sweets and carbs and let’s be real, that can be a problem in the future, but I frame eating healthy in the context of healthy fuel for her body. She’s not into playing sports, but thankfully has taken up karate and I’m trying to get her into a dance class. I just want her to do something with her body to see it as a strong vessel, rather than a reflection of if she is somebody else’s version of beauty.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Funkidivagirl: YES—helping her make smarter choices about eating “healthy” instead of talking about “getting fat” is something we absolutely do around our way. And I think you’re right on track with helping your daughter to see that her body is a strong vessel. Eve makes that point, too, and it’s definitely one I have to remember to instill in her, for sure.

  8. My instinct would be to ask questions rather than telling her anything. Give some space to really sort out why she feels that way and ask her what she things would help her to feel better about her body. Maybe if she really feels understood, get’s a chance to really understand it herself and feels a sense of ownership over feeling better you will be able to move forward together.

    My daughter is only 4 and she doesn’t watch TV or anything so she is still very comfortable with herself. I do however make a point of referring to my own mama belly and bouncy booty in a fun, matter of fact way. We talk about how much fun it is to jiggle my belly and I refer to my great big bum. I want her to see me comfortable in my own skin, I will never call myself fat or talk about weight loss in front of her. Other than that, I guess it’s just about keeping the conversation going.

  9. Here I am a 34 year old black woman without the typical bootylicious curves. I’m doing everything I can to make mine bigger, and Miss Mari is trying to hide hers! Gimme some girl!

  10. I work with middle school girl as a counselor and one of the things I do whenever they express negative feelings they have about their bodies is to normalize the situation and their feelings. Letting ’em know that it’s a pretty normal feeling and that others go through it helps them to process their feelings a lot. Sure, she’s lucky to have a little dunk in her trunk. Heck, I *wish* I had a big booty and even tried to get one by doing squats and drinking ensures and all that good stuff. But it didn’t work. LOL. But, she probably won’t care right now that she’ll be the envy of everyone in a few years. All she knows is that right now she feels this way about her booty. That being said, when I help ’em focus on other positive aspects of their bodies helps too.

    LOL @ “for the next week you have to eat air.” So funny!

    • “whenever they express negative feelings they have about their bodies is to normalize the situation and their feelings. Letting ‘em know that its a pretty normal feeling and that others go through it helps them to process their feelings a lot. ”

      I love this approach.

  11. I remember being in your daughter’s situation. I was only 9 though. I was an early bloomer. First came the hips and rear and the breasts right after. Although, I wasn’t taught to like my curves. I was regularly called fat by my mother, female relatives, and their friends for my butt. I was also the first girl in my grade to have breasts and in addition to my mother confiscating my tanks, halters and v-neck tshirts, I was accused of stuffing my bra until middle school. Even then, especially in the locker room, another girl would occasionally comment on the size of my chest. So, please help your daughter love her body. Tell her you think she’s beautiful as is. Don’t you EVER let her think that being different is bad either. If she worries too much about being like her agemates, it will cause her years of torture and misery.

  12. My daughter is 8 and has a round rear,She so far is comfortable in her skin, thank God,She sometimes makes negative comments about being to dark, I used to have the same feeling about myself. I learned to love myself through others appreciation of me, I learned that i am beautiful. I grew up being called negative names, which lowered my selfesteem for years to come, as an adult, I am overcoming those negaitve effects, I teach my daughter, nieces and other youn girls in my life to love themselves, and to never put anyone else down for any reason what so ever.

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