Ms. B. has always been tall. Extremely tall. When she was little, I would take her in for her check-ups and the small dot on her growth chart for height would always be floating in the white space of the top margin. When she started school, her next tallest classmate, girl or boy, hit somewhere near her chin. Ms. B. always loved it. She would come home from the first day of school each year and crow, “Yep! Still the tallest in my class!” We would cheer and give her high fives.
I’ve always made a conscious effort to make her tallness something to celebrate, something that was cool. Because I’ve seen those tall women who are hunched over. Like they are trying to seem shorter than they are or, maybe, just bring themselves down to your level. Either way, I’ve always found them sort of sad – like they are in some subconscious way ashamed of who they are or are trying to disappear. It’s not what I wanted for Ms. B.
I’ve always wanted her to be one of those tall women who OWN it. Who stand straight and tall and say, “Yeah, I know I’m already six inches taller than you. But, fuck it, I’m wearing three-inch heels anyway.” Those women are awesome. They demand your attention and respect. They say something about their self-esteem that those hunched over women do not, and its something I want for my tall daughter.
Ms. B. was on board. She would talk about wanting to be six feet tall when she grew up. But sometime this school year her bravado began to falter. It started last fall with her confession at dinner that she had a crush on a boy, but had discarded it because he was shorter than her. My first thought was to view this as a positive. If “taller than me” is a pre-qualifying condition for any potential boyfriend, then, honestly, Ms. B. will be waiting for quite a while. I’m okay with this.
But some small flicker in my mind also processed that this was the first time Ms. B. had referenced her height with anything less than her typical exuberance. It was like one of those annoying Windows “alert” boxes that I promptly clicked “ignore.”
Until last week.
Ms. B. had her annual physical where we learned that she is a mere 1/2 inch shorter and 8 pounds lighter than me. (How this makes her a size 4 and me a size 10 is something that merits another blog post on the stupidity of women’s clothing sizes). After dinner Ms. B. was quietly hovering around me. Ms. B. doesn’t do “quiet” or “hovering” very often, so I knew she was chewing on something unpleasant.
“When did you stop growing?” she asked. I answered her (Middle School, but then I grew another inch when I was 25. Weird) and then there was another long pause. “I hope I’m done growing soon,” she finally said.
“No!” I pouted. “What happened to wanting to be six feet tall?”
“I don’t really want to be THAT tall.”
“It’s not really something you get to decide. Maybe you will stop growing soon. But maybe not. You’re probably going to be pretty tall and I’ve always loved how you embraced that.”
Ms. B. quietly nodded and then wandered back to her room. We haven’t talked about it any more, but it felt like the start of something. A bigger conversation that we’re going to be having a lot over the next few years.
I know we are just starting in on what is a difficult time for girls and beauty. And I remember that time; How anything that was different about your physical appearance became this ‘flaw’ to obsess over. But if she emerges from the fog of the next few years having failed to learn that She, not her friends and classmates, not Hollywood, not Glamour magazine, She has the power to dictate what makes her beautiful… If she fails to learn that having the confidence to believe the statement “I am beautiful” is what makes you actually beautiful, then I will feel like I have failed as a parent of daughters in some fundamental way.