Every Little Girl Needs To Know It's OK To Eat The Damn Cupcakes

Just eat the f*ckin' candy.

little kid self esteem

I was riding the subway with my boyfriend yesterday when a woman and a young girl got on at the stop just after ours. 

It became immediately clear that the woman was the little girl's nanny or babysitter when she said, "Why don't we stop on the way home for cupcakes? You've been so good today!" 

The little girl looked chagrined. 

"My mom says I can't eat stuff like that," she said. 

The little girl had red hair in two French braids and a splash of freckles across her nose. She couldn't have been more than 10 years old. She had pink cheeks, a sweet voice, and a vibrant attitude. 


Those were the thoughts I had when I looked at her. Notice that not one of them was, "That girl does NOT need to be eating cupcakes." 

My heart sank for that little girl. She didn't even have boobs yet and her self-esteem was already being crushed.

She wasn't even a teenager and already she knew that her life was going to have to be about looking a certain way and denying herself things that could prevent her from achieving that totally bogus goal. 

Her nanny was a gem. "I think your mom is too hard with you about that stuff," she said, adding, "the important thing is to be healthy." 

The little girl lit up again at this and I hoped to god that the little girl's mother didn't have any friends on the train who could report back to her and remove this positive influence on her child's self-esteem from her life. 


When you are nine and 10 you should be worrying about middle school starting soon. You should be worrying about getting enough food so you can feel happy and energized the next day. You should worry about reading lots of books and playing outside and making friends. 

You shouldn't be worrying about your weight, or worrying about how to love yourself. 

There's time enough for that, trust me. 

When I was the same age as this little girl, my doctor told my mother that I was obese according to the BMI, and that something needed to be done. 

She said this in front of me, and before I knew it, I was counting my calories, waking up early to go on awful jogs, and being signed up for the local YMCA's swim team. 


My mother struggled with her weight and her self-esteem her whole life. She's the only one of her sisters who isn't anorexic and because she wasn't she was taught that she was fat. 

I'm sure she tried hard not to let me feel this way, but her own baggage made that impossible. 

A thin female doctor told her that I was obese and it was like her sisters all over again. 

So she set out on making sure I wasn't fat, and so began my long and storied history of hating my body. 

Swim team practice was Monday through Friday. 

If I went and did a good job, on Friday I got to pick a treat for myself. It was usually either Now N' Laters Candy or a flaky pastry called an Elephant's Ear from the German bakery we passed on the way home from practice. 


I was rewarded for dieting and exercising during the week with a sweet, high caloric treat. Is it any wonder I have issues with food, with my body? 

Imagine telling a 9-year-old girl she is fat. 

Imagine a 9-year-old girl on a Stairmaster. 

Imagine asking that bookish 9-year-old girl to put on a bathing suit and stand with her more athletic peers. 

It was akin to torture. 

I love to swim, I always have. 



In the water, I am a thick, wet, muscular creature, like a seal. 

I am not fast, I don't do competition well. I have an anxiety disorder, and at age 9 after telling me I'm fat and that I need to change and get thin you put me in a bathing suit, make me stand with other skinnier people, make me compete, you totally stripped the pleasure away from something I really loved. 

It never occurred to me to say no. 

I didn't realize that I could look at my doctor and say, "My blood pressure is great, my cholesterol is better than yours, I love being outside, the BMI is bogus and I'm beautiful." 

Instead, I worried about making her happy. 

When my mom signed me up for the swim team I just smiled, because she was my mom and she wanted what was best for me and what was best for me was to feel happy and healthy and confident and she had a way of doing that for me she was sure would work. 


It didn't work. 

My mother always told me I was beautiful. I believed her for a long time, but eventually, I stopped believing her. 

My mother thought she was ugly, she was always on a diet. 


People said I looked just like her, so how could I possibly be beautiful? 

I want to go back in time and bust into that pediatrician's exam room, grab myself by the hand and say "Come on, let's go get cupcakes and go to the beach," leaving my mother and my pediatrician to deal with their food baggage. 



But time travel is impossible, plus, if everything I've learned from science fiction is right, interacting with myself could cause the apocalypse. 

Because I can't do that, I smile at the nanny and her red-haired charge on the train. I want to tell the nanny that she's wonderful, and I want to tell the red-haired girl that she is absolutely perfect the way she is, but this is New York City and we don't do stuff like that. 

So instead, I keep smiling at them until they get off the train and I continue on to my next destination.