My baby girl is barely four months old, but she’s already the size of a six month old.
She weighs about eighteen pounds.
At her last check up, she measured above the ninetieth percentile for both height and weight. She is a very big baby. Her thighs are each made up of three soft rolls of flesh. And her cheeks are so chubby that her face is wider than it is long.
My little girl’s big proportions are a source of pride for me. Every pound she’s gained represents countless late-night feedings. Her growth is my reward for enduring clogged milk ducts and exposing my breast during every public outing and family dinner. My baby is healthy and beautiful and actually, she’s height-weight proportionate.
My older child was also a large baby. But unlike my baby girl, no one seemed to feel the need to constantly discuss my first child’s weight because he was a little boy. When my son was two months old, his cheeks hung down like a bull dog. They dwarfed his chin, which sat between them like a punctuation mark. People talked about how he was cute. They said they had always wanted to have a baby with big cheeks.
No one ever worried over my son’s future BMI or tried to convince me to feed him less.
Now that I have a girl, her weight has been a constant topic of conversation. Recently my husband posted a photo of our baby to his Facebook page. In the picture, my daughter is dressed in a green and white striped dress. He captioned the photo with the words, “My little girl,” or something like that. I realize now that i probably made a mistake when I commented, “There’s nothing small about our girl.” It was a stupid thing to say, but when I wrote it, what I really meant is that our baby is growing up so fast and she seems so mature already. Unfortunately, people who saw my comment took it to mean that I was calling my daughter fat. A handful of people began commenting on her size and what she was wearing. “Maybe horizontal stripes aren’t her thing.” Others wrote more comments trying to defend her. I know that everyone was only joking around, and really there was no particular comment that offended me. But as I read the thread beneath her picture, my heart sunk. Here was my baby girl, only a few months old, and already her body was on display for others to critique or defend. Can’t a baby just be a cute little baby?
Even though she’s a girl? Do we have to always pick apart her appearance?
The whole thread on Facebook could have been brushed aside if comments about my baby’s weight didn’t constantly happen in real life too: in the produce section of the grocery store, at a funeral reception, or when I hand my baby off and hear, “Wow! Hello, Chunk-Ball!” I know that the folks who are concerned that my little baby is destined for a future of obesity mean well, but it’s happening so frequently that it’s starting to bother me. I’ve been asked by more than one person, “Are you sure you should be nursing her so often?” And another person suggested that I give her a bottle of water when she cries instead of always offering my breast. Talking about my daughter’s weight feels strange and uncomfortable. When I look at her, I just see a happy, healthy baby. I love kissing her bald head and blowing raspberries against her soft tummy.
Being female is not easy. Body issues and learning how to accept ourselves is an ever-present struggle for almost every woman that I know.
I never thought that worrying about my daughter’s weight would start so young. I thought we would get a few years; a little time for my girl to just be a cute baby. I thought she had a little time before she started being judged by her appearance. I thought she had a little bit of time before people started worrying about how much she ate.
I know that as my daughter grows up, no matter how skinny or fat she might be, people will continue to talk about her body and judge her by how she looks. I know that right now she is so little that she doesn’t even comprehend these concepts. But as she grows, the struggle to keep her body-image from taking over her self-image is only going to get harder. I want to teach my little girl that happiness needs to come from inside yourself.