Momaha Blog: Just eat it already: What my premature baby taught me about women, weight and worth

By Ashley Strehle Hartman
Posted on the Omaha World-Herald’s on Aug. 20, 2020

There are three things you should know about me right from the start.

  1. I’m a new mom.
  2. My baby came into this world five weeks early and less than five pounds.
  3. I once got into a fight in a department store dressing room. Or, I wish I had at least.

I’ll start with the fight because that happened first when I wasn’t a mom but was instead just a woman in her 30s trying — and failing — to find a pair of jeans that fit me correctly.

I was halfway into a pair of skinny jeans in a department store dressing room when a conversation in the next stall caught my attention. It was a mother and her two teenage daughters. I’d seen them go in there as I entered my dressing room. The girls were about 13 and 14 — that age when you’re basically just a bundle of raw nerves and hormones, coated in lip gloss and fruit-scented body spray.

Needless to say, it’s a sensitive time that needs to be handled with sensitivity.

This mom had a different approach.

The girls were trying on jean shorts. I could gather that much from my end. I am by nature a nosy person, but they were also talking really loudly, so my eavesdropping was also kind of on them.

One of the girls asked her mother if a pair of jean shorts made her look fat.

The mom said, “Yes, kind of.”

(Side note: I know there is a growing movement to de-stigmatize the word “fat” and make the word simply a descriptor — as devoid of negative connotations as any other adjective associated with size. But I assure you, that was not how this mother was using the word. The way she said it clearly implied that she meant “fat” as a bad thing.)

I wasn’t the only one who took it that way. The daughter did too.

“Oh, okay,” the daughter said in a voice that, even from the next stall, I could tell was bordering on tears.

That’s when I stormed out of my dressing room, half-crazed and half-into a pair of skinny jeans and put that mean mom into a chokehold.

But, really, I didn’t.

In reality, I silently fumed as I finished trying on my pants and settled on a few pairs that were just OK. Then I went home and ranted about the situation to my husband and to any friend who would listen. Then I angry-cried about it that evening, and I made myself a promise that if I ever had a child, I wouldn’t be that kind of mother.

That’s a promise I intend to keep, now more than ever.

As a society, we spend so much of our time trying to teach girls — and later women — to make themselves smaller. Most of the messages surrounding women’s bodies are all about reducing their size and the amount of space women take up in the world.

The media is full of messages and advice on how women can “go down a size,” “reduce the circumference of your thighs,” “lose those five pounds before swimsuit season” or “melt away that extra weight.”

And, sure, yes, we are living in a time when obesity is at an all-time high, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Of course, you should do everything you can to ensure your children are at a healthy weight that allows them to run, play and use their bodies in a way that gives them joy and makes them strong.

But what you shouldn’t teach them is deprivation.

From an early age, we teach children — especially girls — that food, much like the word “fat,” is a bad F word. We teach them that food is the enemy and wanting more of it is a bad thing and often, a character flaw. They grow up watching the adult women in their lives turning down that extra helping at dinnertime and avoiding pieces of cake. They hear them saying things like, “Ugh, I couldn’t possibly eat that. It would go straight to my thighs.” Or, “I’m so hungry, but…”

I’ve never been one of those people. If I want the extra helping, I get it. If I want the cake, I eat the cake. I couldn’t possibly care if the food is going to go “straight to my thighs.” If I’m hungry, I eat.

And I desperately hope my daughter will be that way too.

Because if you’ve ever spent time in a NICU, begging, pleading and praying that a tiny baby will suck down just 10 milliliters of milk, you’ll understand how important it is for us to nourish and not deprive ourselves.

You’ll remember what you may have forgotten — that food is energy, strength and love.

Just eat it already.