Boys won't like you if you're fat.
People won't like you if you're not pretty.
You want friends, don't you? No one likes tomboys.
No one will like you unless you lose weight.
Why don't you want to be pretty? Don't you want friends?
You have to do the right things to get people to like you.
I'm sitting in Starbucks, scratching out the very beginnings of a story. It's been quiet in here; I got my favorite table and decided that I'm camping out here the rest of the day to enjoy it. Other people have come and gone, but twenty minutes ago a couple sat down at the table next to me and two minutes into their conversation I'm jerked back to eight years old.
No one will like you if you're fat.
They're discussing, I assume, their child. Why won't she conform to normal? She's ten years old already; she should have outgrown the whole tomboy phase by now. And honestly, if she gains any more weight, her social life will end.
Boys don't like girls who act like boys.
They're not being snotty or condescending; they're genuinely concerned. Their daughter is on the cusp of being--they assume--a social outcast. Puberty is looming; she's rapidly approaching the age where appearance matters to her peers. She hates dresses. She wants to play basketball and take karate lessons. If she keeps going in that direction, she's going to be friendless and miserable, and the idea breaks their hearts.
You're going to wear a dress to school every morning. I'm tired of you looking like that.
Her pediatrician says she's on the high end of the scale, but not overweight, not yet. But Mom can see it coming. And when it happens--not if--she'll be miserable. Kids are just mean little things. And how can she get on the basketball team? She's not quick and not athletic at all. She'll wind up riding the bench and watching as the sport she wants to participate in goes on without her. Those kids will mock her.
You're not a boy. Stop acting like it already.
And the karate? She'll last a week at the most. How many little girls really want to fight little boys all the time? How will she learn dignity and grace doing something like that? Dad thinks he can teach her to defend herself, but will it even matter? If she doesn't change, she's not going to wind up in the positions where boys will take advantage of her. He certainly wouldn't have looked at her twice when he was young.
You'll never have a boyfriend if you don't do things to make yourself pretty.
Mom doesn't know what to do. Their daughter is stubborn; they can keep her out of basketball and karate, but they can't force her into doing something to make herself look better. They can stop a few things in their tracks; she wanted leggings to play in because her friends all have them, but God only knows how much teasing that would have invited, a girl like her in skin tight things.
Fat girls aren't pretty. That's just how it is. If you want friends, you'll do something about it.
I wanted them to look over at me. See the horror on my face. I wanted to open my mouth and warn them: keep it up, keep telling her she's less than you want her to be. Keep picking at her clothes and her weight and her interests; keep doing that, if in five years you want a teenager who doesn't trust you; if in twenty years you want those words to echo in her head like a scream in the night; if in thirty years you want those feelings to stab her in the heart.
Keep thinking along those lines and say something, because she'll hear you and she'll swallow it whole, and for the rest of her life she'll be embarrassed for the people who do like her, who love her, who cherish her, and she'll never quite feel like she deserves it.
Keep talking. Do it here, and maybe, hopefully, you'll hear yourselves before she does.