Right now, as I’m typing this, an eight-year-old girl I know and love is sobbing on her bed.
Before I tell you why she’s crying, let me tell you about this eight-year-old.
She’s at the top of her Grade 3 class. Loves swimming. And jazz ballet. Can sing every Taylor Swift song off by heart and – even though she says it’s for ‘little kids’ – she’ll often sit down and watch The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Foxtel in the afternoons. She believes in Santa and Mademoiselle Tooth Fairy and will always ask for a second dessert. And she’s tall and strong with a nose that’s been seasoned with freckles.
And you know why she’s in her bedroom tonight sobbing into a Peppa Pig cushion? Because she’s fat.
Or she thinks she is. Worries that she is. Tonight this eight-year-old became convinced that her perfectly normal round tummy was fat. That her legs – her THIGHS – were fat. And what she wants to be? Oh you already know the answer to that one. She wants to be THIN.
Her mum – one of my dearest friends – rang me tonight in total absolute shock and bewilderment.
This flip out or meltdown or whatever the hell you call it has come out of nowhere. NOWHERE. (My friend is not a weight-obsessed kind of gal and talk in their house – if body shape has ever come up – has always been about being strong and healthy not thin).
So what caused her daughter to become suddenly obsessed with her thighs? Right now, she still has no idea. A conversation at school amongst one girl or several? An image on TV? In a magazine? On the net? An off-hand remark from a teacher? A classmate? All of the above? None of it?
Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure it matters. Because the message is everywhere. Everywhere you look. Everything you see. Hear.
Thin is best. Better. Thin is hot. Desirable. Pretty. Cool. Thin is successful. Lovable. Acceptable. Perfect.
Fat is bad. Evil. Lazy. A slob. No good. Unloveable. Flawed. Ugly. A loser.
Thin is winning at life.
Except you and I both know all of that is a load of BS. So here’s what I want to say to that fierce and funny and spirited eight-year-old in my life.
Thin means nothing. Thin, fat, short, tall… it’s all irrelevant.
It’s a shape. Not a character trait.
Kiddo, having a thigh gap or a bikini bridge doesn’t magically make you a better person. It won’t help you get an A+ in that 1,000-word assignment on Hamlet that you’re going to have to write in Year 11. It’s not going to get you a higher Year 12 score. Or get you into the traineeship or uni course you want to do. It’s not going to help you save up for that trip to London. It won’t make it easier to learn how to make a mean apple pie. Or be the deciding factor on whether that amazing girl or guy you meet at your work mixed netball game asks you out. Nobody is asked on a date simply because of a thigh gap. NOBODY.
Being ‘thin’ won’t automatically make you wiser. Or kinder. Or more compassionate. Or better able to tell a joke and make a roomful of people laugh. In exactly the same way, the width of your wrists or the length of your earlobes don’t hold that super power either.
Thinness is not a pre-requisite for success. Or for happiness.
When I worked as the editor of one of Australia’s most successful travel magazines travelling the world for free, I didn’t have a thigh gap.
When I lived in London for 12 months with my best friend Nicky and had so many nights where we laughed until we cried – I didn’t have a thigh gap.
When I was hired to write episodes of the kids TV show The Shak – I didn’t have a thigh gap.
When I got my first novel published and it made the best-seller list and I sold the movie rights and my next book was published in the US and then debuted as a stage play – I didn’t have a thigh gap. When I met my gorgeous husband Brad – I didn’t have a thigh gap.
I’ve never had a thigh gap. In fact, I’ve had the opposite most of my life. I’ve had a thigh merge. Not that that’s relevant either. Despite what advertising wants you to believe my body shape (which has yo-yo’d over the years) has influenced pretty much nothing in my life. Shocking but true.
Think about it. When Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wowed the entire world with their super smart, oh-so-funny hosting of The Golden Globes, the size of their thighs didn’t play a role. Having a thigh gap or not doesn’t make Tina and Amy’s joke about George Clooney any more or less funny. Adele didn’t need a thigh gap to win 10 Grammys. And I’m pretty sure Dr Fiona Wood didn’t need one in order to invent spray-on skin for burns victim.
You with me?
So remind me again how being thin (or short or tall or curvy) is the key to a better life? Remind me how a thigh gap or a bikini bridge is a guarantee of a more beautiful existence?
Oh, that’s right. It isn’t. They aren’t.
Body shape is just one aspect of who you are. Sure strive to be strong and healthy so that your body will do the things you want it to do. But that’s where the conversation should end.
But but but.
You want to be popular? Fine. Be a good listener. Laugh easily and often. Be kind. Walk through your life with integrity and compassion. You want to be successful? Great! Work hard. Give back. Travel. Read. Volunteer.
You want to have a life filled with joy? Surround yourself with people who call forth your best. Practice gratitude. And always, always my darling girl, go for a second dessert.
It’s that simple. No, really. It is.
At what age did you become aware of your body shape and size? Do you think the age girls start thinking about their weight is getting younger?