Photo: Kyla Fox
It happened again just the other day. I was at music class with my two girls when one of the other mothers told me how “huge and squishy” my nine-month-old daughter is. And again, when I was out taking my girls for a walk, a passing stranger squeezed Augusta’s legs saying, “fat, fat, fat” in a gushing voice. And then again in the parking lot at the grocery store, as I was transferring Augusta from the car to my carrier, a woman walking by shouted, “Are you sure you can carry her like that? Be careful. You might break your back—she’s enormous!”
Each time someone comments on my daughter’s size, my heart sinks a little more. I give an empty smile, but inside I’m thinking, How dare you?
Before Augusta was born, I worried that I wouldn’t have room in my heart to love a child as much as I loved my first daughter, Ryan, but I quickly realized my endless capacity for love the moment I laid eyes on her. Augusta is perfect and undeniably special. She is deeply loving, extremely affectionate—a more easy-going baby than her sister.
Augusta was born seven pounds, 11 ounces. Her growth and development has seemed to be almost identical with Ryan and I’ve done everything the same in raising them.
But Augusta appears bigger. Or at least the world tells me so.
As a clinical eating disorder therapist who has recovered from an eating disorder, I am particularly sensitive about, and aware of, people’s comments related to bodies and size. I find myself asking myself if I’ve done something wrong: Is there a problem with my breast milk? Is there something wrong with my baby? What have I done to my child? I’ve convinced myself that Augusta’s hunger or fullness cues are not developing properly, or that people commenting on her size are indirectly commenting on how I’ve failed her as a mother. I have felt helpless and incompetent, insecure and deeply sad.
I love Augusta more than I could ever articulate. When people tell me how “huge,” “fat” or “so big” she is, I am always taken aback. I never know what to say and so I say nothing. Initially, I could let it go, but the constant feedback has crushed me. I find myself endlessly comparing—looking at other babies, trying to determine how much bigger she is. I have spent far too much time worrying about what people are saying or thinking about her, rather than just being present with her. And I have looked at her with fear and concern, rather than with only pride and love. I feel ashamed that I’ve allowed this feedback to cloud my perceptions of my daughter. I feel guilty that I haven’t outwardly protested the comments and protected her.
People making these comments likely are not intending harm, but there are real implications to what they are saying—to my baby and to me. Though they may seem benign, these comments are the start of lifelong observations about women’s appearance that make us self-conscious, self-critical and self-hating. And though babies may not understand, for parents who love and care for their babies, putting so much energy into ensuring they are healthy and well taken care of, the remarks hit hard.
And it’s not just remarks about heaviness that hurt. I was at the park the other day, pushing Augusta while another mom pushed her one-year-old on the swing next to us. We exchanged pleasantries about our girls and—though I never brought up size—she immediately defended the very small stature of her daughter. She assured me that she’s “not in any danger” and “she herself was this little as a baby” and, as she went on, I saw her pain. I recognized another mother who had been crushed by feedback about her child and felt the need to be on the defensive about her daughter. I told her that her daughter was “absolutely perfect,” and I saw tears in her eyes.
Recently, I took Augusta for her nine-month checkup. My paediatrician measured and weighed her. As it turns out, she’s in the 50th percentile for weight. I was surprised. And then I was angry—at myself. I have spent 15 years helping people recover from the most excruciating suffering with their bodies. I know better. I had been giving so much value to other people’s perceptions that I wasn’t seeing my daughter. Whether Augusta is in the 100th percentile, the 20th percentile, or the 50th percentile, she will be judged. We live in a society preoccupied by weight, size, and shape. It’s my responsibility as her mother to protect her, to teach her about the world and to help her to know that, no matter what her size, she is enough.
Kyla Fox is the founder of the Kyla Fox Centre, an eating-disorder recovery centre in Toronto. She has been a clinical therapist in the field of eating disorders for over 10 years, and is also a public speaker, writer and advocate for eating disorder awareness and prevention. Kyla is most proudly the mother to her two daughters, Ryan Belle and Augusta Grey.