I don't remember having these thoughts so early. Lydia is four years old, and is already comparing herself to what she sees around her.
"Mommy, I wish my skin was lighter."
"Mommy, I wish I had yellow hair."
"I like blue eyes better."
"I want to be thin. Mommy, do I look thin?" (sucking in her stomach)
"Anna, you are so thin; I want to be really thin."
These were not all spoken at once. Lydia isn't constantly thinking of her appearance. But I have heard variations of these phrases every now and then. Very unsettling. Every time I hear her make these comments, I try my best, in a very relaxed, conversational way, to ask her why she wants these traits, and then we talk about the benefits and beauty of her brown eyes, brown skin, and dark hair. I try to be careful, in my enthusiasm, not to veer too far in the other direction, and declare darker to be better. Nevertheless, I can't resist reminding her that our kind of skin can handle the sun better than lighter skin.
This is what I told Joseph when he was dealing with names like "little black person" (小黑人). Now, he proudly flaunts his victory whenever we put our arms together for a skin tone contest. He is happily the darkest person in our family. He and Anna actually help me point out all the benefits of our skin tone to Lydia. Every time, she listens with interest, and appears satisfied. But still, the comments pop up. Her drawings mostly show women with blond (rather, bright yellow) hair, and tiny waists.
How could this have started so early? I remember my own dreams. I wanted long straight hair that blew in the wind. I was built more stocky like Lydia, so I also envied Sara's smaller boned frame, which was a lot like Anna's Asian build. But I'm pretty sure I didn't think much of these things at four years old. ....Well, we did watch Frozen. Almost impossible not to. And Cinderella. And Alice in Wonderland. And since we recently watched Peter Pan, the girls have repeatedly requested Tinkerbell printables (plus all her hourglass shaped friends. They still don't know that Tinkerbell has her own movie. I don't plan on telling them either :P) to color.
So that is part of the answer right there. She sees these beautiful, impossibly thin characters in these movies, and wants to be like them. So simple. Since it would be very hard to block all distorted images from her world, my strategy is to use these moments when her ideas and wishes are spoken as a chance to explain how these characters are not realistically shaped; how to be that thin would be dangerous and unhealthy; how God made so many colors in the world, because He knew that they were all so beautiful. Part II of my strategy is to be intentional about the women Joseph, Anna and Lydia are exposed to as role models. Certainly there are books and perhaps even movies that portray women of all colors in a healthy and proportioned way, that are overflowing with patience and kindness. I hope. For starters, we can spend time imagining together what so many brave women from the Bible may have looked like.
Today, Lydia asked for a piece of paper and busily started coloring with markers. Her preferred medium is ink or graphite, so I was curious what she would draw this time. This is what she showed me:
"Does she look nice? Not too thin, and not too fat?"
"Perfect!", I said, "She looks like she can do a lot of hard work without breaking in half! She looks like she can dance and play and not get tired!"
Lydia was pleased. I was elated. I still am. This woman's pose is full of confidence, and her bare feet (a shocker, as almost all of Lydia's ladies have high heels) can handle the roughest of terrains.
I have no doubt that this beautiful woman can carry a bucket full of water on her head without breaking a sweat.