Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ha' Mercy: My 10-Year-Old’s Body Is Too Bootylicious For Kidswear

I took Mari—my first-born, my sweet girl, my baby—school shopping this weekend… in the ladies’ section. It seems my days of buying pretty little dresses and jeans embellished with sparkles and rainbows are numbered.

And now, my heart is broken.

And I have the shakes.

Because my Mari—my first-born, my sweet girl, my baby—is only 10.

Ten, dammit.

And I just wasn’t prepared to watch my 10-year-old daughter suffer through the gut-wrenching fitting-room agony of having to squeeze and pull and stretch into a children’s clothing size that officially is no longer available to her. With her little sister flitting about in one super-cute outfit after the other, Mari and I had to fold each of the near dozen pants I'd hauled into the fitting room and put them back on the shelf. Our march from GapKids to just the plain ol’ Gap was a reluctant and slow one; I did a decent job of hiding my tears, but my sadness was unmistakable: When—and how!—did my 10-year-old child get too big for a size 14?

She is athletic and active—a lover of pasta, but also healthy portions of rainier cherries and juicy nectarines, sautéed string beans and okra and even brussels sprouts. She’s not prone to snacking, and would just as soon drink water than suck down punch and carbonated drinks. Even at her tender age, Mari is conscious about how her food choices can help or harm her body, and so really, she’s done nothing to warrant being banished to the land of low-cut tops and barely-covering-the-crack jeans reserved for the more daring—the more adult.

No, this is my fault. My baby’s inherited her mother’s blessed/cursed curves—the wide hips and the thick thighs and the uber-round bubble booty and the tiny waist that render good pants fits virtually impossible, sans a paycheck’s worth of cash wasted on tailors charged with getting the clothes to fit right.

And I feel absolutely horrible about this.

And helpless.

I remember what it was like to have to bypass all the cute, colorful clothes in the Garanimals section at Penny’s and Macy’s and go down the escalator to the junior’s section with my mom; as I recall, she wasn’t too thrilled about the switch, either, and made a point of letting me know this by not-so-subtly suggesting I lay off the Oreos and do some exercise so I could get back into the children’s section. Mind you, I was skinny as a rail, save for the butt and hips, but it was exactly that, I think, that scared my mom. She was a black mom in America, after all, with intimate knowledge of what black men—specifically young black men—lust after: hips and booty. I think that in her mind, the bigger mine got, the more chance some little boy would pounce on her daughter, opening her up to a cascade of hormone-driven, adolescent problems—a literal ticking time-bomb that could lead to, at best, having to mend her daughter’s broken heart, at worst, having to change a grandbaby’s diaper.

Bettye wasn’t trying to be anybody’s grandma—at least not until her daughter graduated college, found herself a good job with a good paycheck and good benefits, and exchanged her “I do’s” with a man who was ready, willing, and able to care for a family of his own.

And so she set about building her own personal dam to stem the tide of adolescence: She commenced to doing everything she could to convince me that boys weren’t an option. By forbidding me to date. And insisting I stay in the house huddled beneath her and my Dad instead of out at the roller skating rink or the bowling alley or the mall with my friends. And by making me feel like my hips and bubble butt were a problem—something that wasn’t natural. That needed correcting. I can still remember the day she came into my room and suggested I walk backward on my butt to make it “flatten out a little.” I can still remember, too, how frustrated and angry I got when, after weeks of scooting across my rough beige carpet, the only thing I’d accomplished was giving myself rug burn and a really bad self-esteem issue that lasted way into my early 20s, when I finally gave up trying to hide all of this under big shirts, thick sweaters and baggy pants.

My ass was—and always will be—big and wide and round.

And there was no amount of scooting or camouflaging that was going to change that.

It is this that I kept repeating to myself as I walked Mari to the women’s section at The Gap—over to the sale rack, in a desperate search for size 0 women’s shorts with kid, not adult, price tags. It is not her fault that she’s got my hips and thighs and butt. And there is nothing I can do to change them.

What I can do, though, is encourage her to accept and love the curves God’s thrown her way, all the while helping her to hold on to that innocence. Nick and I are doing a pretty good job of it; when we recently asked her to describe herself in a word, she said, “strong.” This much is true: She gleefully dives into physical competitions with her precociously athletic cousin, and even sometimes bests him. She also loves to sweat, and run, and make her body do things that most 10-year-old girls already are too self-conscious to try. Right now, she’s focused more on all the great things it can do, rather than the problems it can cause.

I'll help her keep her eyes on that prize—to help her sidestep the black girl booty baggage, even as her 10-year-old body does its not-so-slow march to Beyonce bootylicious womanhood. Thank God, she still enjoys wrapping herself up in the intricacies of a new SpongeBob episode and the wonder of erecting a fantastically colorful chalk city in the middle of our concrete driveway.

She is still a little girl.

And for this, I am grateful, even if we do have to bid size 14 a sad farewell.

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  1. Awww...how sweet. I wonder if my own Mother felt this way, way back when. Thank goodness though, she was a seamstress and sewed most of my clothes. But to make you feel better - or not - I went through the same thing with my 11 yr old son!!...no more kiddie clothes.

  2. My 10 year old is growing up too fast too!
    We just went school gym shoe shopping, and she ended up having a size 9 in a ladies shoe. (for awhile I thought we'd wear the same size...now she's outgrown me!)
    -love your blog-

  3. Such a beautiful post, and I'm glad you're encouraging the self acceptance you struggled with. It took many years for me to love my great brown round, in fact it wasn't until these hips sturdily held me as I squat in labor with my own children that I came to appreciate the beauty of their fortitude. I still cuss them in the jeans department, but laud them in the genes department!

  4. I think that it is long past the time for clothing companies to understand that woman and children come in all shapes and sizes and to design clothing accordingly.

    Sounds like Mari isn't sweating the change and has a great sense of self because of your wonderful parenting skills. I remember when I was about 13 and my grandmother purchased panties with spandax (girdles) for me and my mother pitched a fit.

    Although, not much later my mother accosted me (me!) because apparently a man her age thought it was okay to comment on my blossoming body. Luckily I kept myself out of harms way but still remember feeling out of sorts because my body was appealing to older men and somehow I was at fault for things beyond my control.

  5. It sounds like you have a great relationship with your daughter. Wonderful to be breaking that cycle of giving children self-esteem issues! Your daughter sounds very well balanced and happy.


  6. I know exactly how you feel! We had the very same experience while back to school shopping with my daughter 2 weeks ago. I was so frazzled that I called our family doctor to discuss "early puberty." Apparently, this is not "early," but the normal time when it all happens. So for now, we will embrace the curves!

  7. What a great story! I am secretly happen to not have to deal with this yet :-). My girls are 8 and 5.

    You're daughter is such a cutie pie! She reminds me of myself at that age. I am an avid Gap Kids shopper and I think that its just that they are making the clothes smaller and sort of forcing parents into "the other side of the store". I was just in there over the weekend and without looking at the tag picked up a shirt that looked like a size 8, and to my surprise it was a 14/16. LOL

    Take care and luv the blog. Its my daily treat

  8. Oh, I went through the same thing growing up! I was skinny (chicken legs, small breasts, small waist), but I had plenty booty! My mom and grandmas were scared sh!tless that some raga-muffin boy was going to knock me up. It didn't help that Sir Mix-a-Lot and LL Cool J were rapping about how they love tiny waists and big butts. so I was kept hidden from the world. It took years to overcome my body issues.

    I love how you are handling Mari's development. She is so lucky to have you for a mom.

    Three cheers for bubble butt girls!

  9. I was just thinking about this issue the other day. My daughter is only 3 1/2 and is by no stretch of the imagination over-weight, in fact, she just got signed by a modeling agency. But already, the agency owner informed me that my daughter may have trouble getting jobs because clothing companies like the clothes to fit just right and my daughter at 42 inches, is bigger than the average. I've just given up on The Gap, sometimes Old Navy fits, H&M cuts seem to fit her eventhough I usually have to buy size 5/6. I wish these companies would realize that not every child is a stick figure mannequin... best to you and Mari!

  10. Beautiful post. My daughter is just 1 year old and I want her to grow up with a positive image of herself no matter what size she is. I know I have always been weight conscious due to my mom's issue with being overweight. I pray I do not do this to my little one. More, I want to focus on her achieving and making the most of what she has.

  11. Beautiful post, as always. Yes, it is a shock moving from the girl section to the "tween" section and realizing that everything "tween" is actually more teen/twenty-something...low riding, mid-drift showing, skin tight and just cut completely wrong, wrong, wrong for any girl-child lucky enough (or unlucky as the case may be) to have a real female figure. *sigh*

    Good luck to you these next few years. My husband and I had many a struggle clothing my girl-child (who also inherited her mama's hips, butt and thighs). My youngest is a boy. No more of that.

    Oh and my mother's remedy for my robust figure at 10-years old was to dress me from the boy section...mmm-hmmm... I think I have everyone beat on that one. ;-D

  12. I think this is one of the most beautifully real, beautifully written posts I've read! My mom always used to say "What's up front counts" and that just tore me up. I was shy and wanted someone to love me because of what was inside me, not because of what my body had to offer. I'm older than you, but right now I wish you'd been my mom:)

    I absolutely love your blog!

  13. Such a beautiful post. Such a beautiful relationship that you have with Mari. And, thank you for sharing your childhood memories. Mari and Lila are such blessed little girls to have you:0)

  14. Mom, the cool thing is no matter WHERE you buy Mari's clothes, the bond, love and respect for you will always be there..

    Mom...she is still YOUR BABY GIRL...

    onelove irie

  15. It's so crazy to me to hear you say that your booty left you with issues about your body! I had the exact opposite problem: I was a little black girl with no butt whatsoever. None. Nada. So I was the butt (no pun intended) of all the "flat butt", "pancake," "nassatall" jokes from elementary all the way through high school. I can remember wishing and praying that one day, I would wake up with a nice round butt.

    It didn't help that I DID have hips and am ample chest. On one hand, I was attractive to older men because of those curves, but on the other hand, I was teased all the time because of the curves I lacked. All of that left me with a body complex I still struggle with to this day (hence, my self depricating sense of humor).

    And I similarly remember my father bringing me a pamphlet when I was in high school saying it contained some information he thought I should consider. It was about breast reduction. I thought I would never forgive him. But at least I've gotten over THAT humiliation :)

    My just-turned 4-year-old daughter is already starting to look like a little lady and is wearing size 6 clothes, so I can only imagine I'll be having to deal with a similar sense of helplessness in a few years. I'm not looking forward to it.

  16. I love this post!!

    I have often wondered why clothing companies haven't taken into account different scaled bodies. My little girl is 2 yrs old and has quite a beautiful poochy bootie going on and Im having a difficult time finding clothes that will compensate for a big bootie and also a diaper. size 4t seems to work ok but not great.

    Thank you for sharing!

  17. i think you're doing a fabulous job!

    i was always a thick, tall child, so my stint in the kids section was short. but like you're doing w/ Mari, my mom made it a point to NOT make me feel that just because my body was maturing, that i wasn't her "little lady." at nearly 30, she still calls me that LOL & i'm so thankful for it!

  18. Ok, I was just here...kind of. My baby will be 10 years old next month, and though she is straight up and down, no curves or the making of any anywhere to be seen (poor chile may take after her mother), we discovered that she now has the feet of a woman. No more Stride Rite or other kiddie shoe stores for her. The days of the cute and classic brown leather sandals with the buckle-the girly kind, are over for my baby. We went from store to store because I was determined to keep her in a child's shoe size. But it was no use. She officially had the foot of a woman!

    We ended up walking out of Aldo's, one of my favorite shoes stores with a grown woman's gladiator sandal! Sigh. Though silly it may sound, I was a little sad to know my little girl no longer had little girl feet. So as the day went on and we snacked on superman ice cream and visited our favorite bookstore so she could put the new "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" book on reserve, I kept thinking my baby girl's baby girl parts are going to be fully grown woman parts one day. Instead of staying sad about it, I'm kind of glad that I'm here to see witness her transition into womanhood because my mother, who died when I was seven, didn't have the same privelege. I also couldn't help thinking she needed to give those shoes to me. Those shoes were bad!

  19. My Goodness! I feel u, I feel u, I FEEL U!!! I have an 8 yr old that will be 9 in October and a 6 yr old that will be 7 in September. They have both turned out to be "shapely" little women and my husband and I repeat this phrase on a daily basis: "When did they get all that booty"!!! It is very hard to keep them dressed age appropriate because a lot of the designers seem to be basing their fashion designs on the same styles that Hannah and the Cheetah Girls are wearing. Those young ladies are teenagers and actual young adults in their early 20s. So our "Disney" babies can't wear everything that their favorite characters wear. I think what is saving us from sending our girls out the door dressed in turtle necks and jumper dresses down to the ankle, is the fact that the style now is based on what we wore in the 80s-the layered look- so we can put extra camisoles, tank tops, leggings on them, and help them not only be in style, but stay our little girls! Oh! JC Pennys sells Girls Plus sized clothing. Try them and google other department stores that sell childrens plus sizes. I think they go all the way up to girls size 16!

  20. I needed this so badly! I'm going through this with my 7 year old and it has me so on edge. I know how it was growing up feeling self conscious and I never want her to feel that way!Thank you for sharing your story! I'm just glad to know I'm not alone


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