It turns out, that for the first two months of my daughter’s shoe-wearing life, I’d been squeezing her little feet into sandals a size too small for her. Her foot slid in easily, and the buckles clipped into place without any hassle, so in my head, job done. Pat on the back mum.
But. There’s always a ‘but’ when it comes to parenting isn’t there? ‘She’s a good eater…but she hates vegetables.’ ‘She’s sleeping through the night…but every third night or so, it’s party time at 3am.’ ‘I love her…but she’s shitting me today.’
Under the watchful eye of grandma, I encountered another ‘but’.
“Her shoes are very cute…but they’re too small for her, honey.” Said my mum. “Look at her poor little foot, it’s all squashed.”
I looked at her foot. Was it? I didn’t know. It looked normal to me.
“Oh really?” I responded.
“Please, go and buy her a new pair tomorrow. Here, take $50.” Implored my mother, reaching for her purse.
Well. That made me feel like a pile of shit. I reassured her that it wasn’t about the money – even though kids’ shoes are damn expensive – rather, that I had no clue what I was doing.
So, off to the shops we went, but, I was taking no chances. I popped down to the most well known kids’ shoe store in my suburb and took advantage of their fitting services. As I perused the display shelves my excitement mounted. There were the most gorgeous silver sandals, gold Mary-Janes with frills, sneakers covered in flowers - the works!
The store was packed with mums and babies, and the queue was ridiculously long, but we waited patiently. Eventually, it was our turn. Little miss waddled her 15-month-old bottom over to the special stage designed for ease of fitting, and babbled away while the sales assistant ‘examined’ her foot.
“Ok so Emilia has quite a broad foot - as you can see, here.” She stopped to point at my girl’s perfect foot, before continuing, “Looking at your feet, I can see it’s genetic – your feet are quite large, wide, and flat, so it’s likely she gets it from you.”
The sales assistant had heaps more to say, but I could no longer focus. There I was – conquering PPD, getting my fitness back, and generally slayin’ at being a mum in general – yet one innocent, off-hand comment was enough to send me spiraling down.
I fought to bring myself back to the moment – and for a little while it worked. The sales assistant brought out some cute shoes designed for broad toddler feet and Emilia let us put them on her before completing little walking tests each time. We chose the third pair – a funky pair of runners with pink Velcro straps. While they were being packaged up, I remembered the gold Mary-Janes.
“Oh, I was wondering if Emi could try these ones on too?” I asked the sales assistant.
“Sorry, but all the pairs we have in her length will be too narrow for her feet,” she responded apologetically.
Again, the wave of darkness washed over me. I paid for the runners while Emi walked from shelf to shelf chanting ‘shoes, shoes, shoes,’ with a goofy smile on her face.
Outside I parked the pram next to a bench and took in a few deep breaths. I didn’t have to question what was wrong with me, there was no soul-searching - I knew. It was my complex rearing its fugly head. Again.
Growing up, I was called fat, chubby, and, by some super mean kids - a pig. I was told I was big – that I had big feet, big hands, big wrists – I was constantly made to feel physically unappealing. I was placed on a diet of white rice and lettuce right before I was due to be a bridesmaid for the first time. I was 15. And starving. I was told to stop eating, while my brother was told to keep eating - because girls can’t be big and strong, that’s something boys need to be.
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The message I received from my community, and society as I grew from a girl into a woman was this: you must be slender and delicate to be considered attractive. And only when you are attractive will you be worth something.
I’m 31 now, and for the most part I can push this vile message out of my brain and into the cold, dark nowehereland it belongs. Every now and again though, it creeps back in and fills me with a negativity I struggle to control. I look at myself in the mirror and pinch rolls of fat between my thumb and forefinger with disgust. I try on my ‘skinny clothes’ and wish I could button them. I complain to my husband about how ‘fat’ I am.
When the shoe lady made her off-hand comment, she caught me when my guard was down, and I was sent plummeting back into the depths of that dark, cold nowehereland before I even knew it.
Thankfully, I’ve had practice pulling myself back to earth and reminding myself that I AM worth something. More than something. A lot. When my daughter was born, I added another reminder: she will only learn to love her body if I model love for my body. Big feet and all.
The thought of my daughter living her life sans body woes makes me feel wonderful, but I also aim to focus her mind on the things her body can do; and all the things that are incredible about her that don’t involve her looks at all. Like the fact that she started walking while she was in a brace for hip dysplasia – what a bloody trooper. And the fact that she hurries over to hug me and her dad every time we ‘pretend cry’.
Emilia may have acquired my feet genes, but I will fight my body-image demons so hard, in the hope that she doesn’t acquire those too. Those demons are a hardy bunch though - even the happiest children can develop some pretty detrimental thought patterns. So, if she ends up having her own mental battles to fight – I will ensure she knows she has an ally in me. Most of all, though, I will love the shit out of her. Broad feet and all.
Marina is a freelance writer living in Melbourne. She splits her days between the written word and (s)mothering her toddler. She has previously been published on Scary Mommy, Mamamia, The Good Mother Project, and Mamalode. Visit her website, Slay-at-Home-Mum, to connect with her and read more of her work.
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