A New Message

By Diane Stark

A New Message

“After we’re done grocery shopping, can we get a hot pretzel?” My 13-year-old daughter, Julia, asked.

I sighed. I’d known the question was coming – and the temptation that came along with it. “I’d be happy to buy you a pretzel, Jules, but I’m not going to get one,” I said.

Her mouth dropped open. “But you love Ben’s hot pretzels dipped in cheese,” she said. “You always said that it’s the best part about grocery shopping at this store.”

“I know, Honey. I do love them, but I’m not going to eat one this time.”

“Because of your diet?”

I nodded. “Yes. I’ve lost nine pounds, and I’d like to lose about ten more. But I can’t do that by eating hot pretzels dipped in cheese sauce.”

“We can share one,” Julia suggested with a shrug.

“That’s OK, Honey. I don’t need the carbs.”

“But they’re your favorite. Can’t you splurge a little?”

“I’ll splurge after I reach my goal weight.”

After we’d finished shopping, Julia and I headed for the hot pretzel stand. My mouth watered as I ordered Julia’s treat.

We sat down at a table, and Julia tore off a piece of her pretzel. I could tell she was about to offer it to me, so I shook my head quickly. “It’s yours, Honey. Just enjoy it.”

As she ate, she filled me in on what was happening at school and with her friends. Our conversation turned to social media and Julia said, “Do you remember a Disney show called Shake it Up? I used to watch it all the time.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I remember it. It was about two teenage girls who were on a dance show.”

 “That’s right,” Julia said. “Well, one of the girls from the show is getting to be pretty famous. Her name is Zendaya Coleman, and recently, she got really mad because a magazine photoshopped pictures of her.”

“Why did she get mad? I thought Photoshop made people look better.”

“That’s the problem, Mom. The magazine edited her hips and thighs to make her look thinner, but she is already thin enough. She got mad because she thought the magazine was saying that the real Zendaya wasn’t good enough.”

“Are these pictures online?”

Julia pulled her phone out of her pocket and spent a few moments on Google. Then she handed me the phone.

here were two images side-by-side. One was the original photo, and the other was the edited version. As I compared the two, I felt a bit queasy.

Julia used her finger to point out the obvious. “See how they edited out a teeny, tiny bit of fat on her thigh right there, and see how her hip doesn’t jut out at all in this picture. They edited it to make her look thinner.”

I nodded. “Jules, you’re right. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the original picture. She is a beautiful girl, and I can see why she was upset that the magazine edited her photo.”

“Scroll down, Mom. There is a quote from Zendaya herself, saying that, by editing her photo, the magazine was sending the wrong message to young girls and creating unrealistic ideals about how we should look.”

I did as Julia asked. I read the words from 19-year-old Zendaya Coleman about the edits to her photo. She encouraged women to love themselves unconditionally and not to buy into impossible standards when it comes to beauty.

“She released the real unedited picture herself, Mom. She didn’t want to be a part of making women feel not good enough about their bodies.”

“She is a smart girl, Honey, and she sounds like a great role model.” As I uttered the words “role model,” I felt queasy once again.

What was wrong with me? Here I sat, praising a teenager for being real and loving her body as it was, while I beat myself up over my extra pounds and made it crystal clear to my daughter that good enough meant thin enough.

I was part of the problem.

Tears pricked my eyes as I said, “Jules, I owe you an apology. I haven’t been a good role model to you. Zendaya is right. We should love ourselves, no matter what size jeans we wear. Being thin doesn’t equal being happy, and it doesn’t make us more worthy of love. I need to work on accepting myself as I am and modeling that for you.”

Julia nodded. “Sometimes it feels like being thin is all that matters in this world.”

“There are many different ways to be beautiful, Jules, but Hollywood rarely shows us that. So I need to be more careful with the messages I’m sending you.”

I grabbed a large piece of her pretzel and dunked it into the cheese sauce. I bit into it and grinned at her. “How’s that for a new message? I’ve eaten healthy all day today, and now, I’m going to splurge and eat a hot pretzel. Not because I’m at my goal weight, but because I love myself, and we all deserve a treat sometimes.”

Julia smiled. “You know what would send an even better message?” Her grin grew bigger. “If you got your own pretzel. I decided I don’t want to share after all.”

I hopped up and ordered a second pretzel. And as I ate every last bit of it, I never once thought about the calories. I simply enjoyed the treat – and my daughter’s company.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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One Response to “A New Message”

  1. Diane, this wonderful story certainly proves how hung up on body image we all are. You did the right thing by dunking that pretzel. Great message.

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