The weight of teenage years & diabetes

In our house, there are certain items we don’t give houseroom to.

I have never been one to pour over glossy magazines – as the great Baz Luhrmann told me in my teenage years “Never read fashion magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.” I think he made an excellent point. Women in particular are constantly bombarded with images about how we should dress, wear our hair, wax our eyebrows, wax away any other hair that isn’t on our head (here I have directed the older girls in the house to the excellent Caitlin Moran’s musings on “How to be a Woman” who eloquently highlights the inequity & ludicrousness of the fanny tax – thanks porn industry….) and generally are made to feel the need to perpetually second guess and question whether our body shape is “normal”. I also fully appreciate that some of these pressure are felt by boys and men too – it’s just in this house, it’s girl power to the power of 3, and therefore I’m more accutely aware of the effect these subliminal, and not-so-subliminal, messages have on the self esteem of a teenage girl.

Essentially, body shape is any kind of shape at all. I think the minimum it would need to consist of is a head and torso, but beyond that, anything goes. My father wrote a lovely poem for Pumplette when she was born, essentially because she hung around for a week whilst her parents settled on a name that they both liked (she had a beautiful one I wanted to call her – I was just unable to secure that second meaningful vote….!) and he ended it like this: “It matters not if you’re big or small, hirsute or like a billiard ball, you’ve come into a loving home. Good health, peace, happiness – Shalom!” These words have stuck with me throughout my daughters’ childhood – because no one’s worth should be based on a wrapper. Those can be most deceiving of all. And so, to this end, we hold no truck with beauty magazines and their demands for one to be a slave to fashion. Each of the girls takes pride in their appearance, but beyond that, none of them are obsessive. They all have their own sense of style, and I’m extraordinarily proud of the way they are all individual in that.

Another item I will never allow over the threshold of any house I live in is a set of scales. I grew up without ready access to a set of bathroom scales, and I think it remains one of the best legacies I have been given by my very wise parents. To this day, if I see a set of bathroom scales in a place I am visiting or staying, I cannot resist hopping on them to see how much I weigh. I do not know why I do this, but I do. I am self aware enough to know this is not a healthy message to pass onto my offspring. I don’t think it would do my mental health any good at all to have unfettered access to a set of scales. And I believe the same is true for my daughters. I am happy they are not obsessive about their weight – it is, after all, not the sum total of their value.

But there is one of my daughters who does have her weight recorded regularly. I hate that she has to endure this ritual every clinic visit. I hate the fact that she really doesn’t relish having to step onto the scales in front of a chirpy nurse, who peers at numbers and then gaily regails us with the numbers being recorded for medics to plot and puruse. I have at times debated stepping in and saying that perhaps she won’t have her weight plotted this visit. Those times when I know the burden of that information will sit heavily upon her for a few days and weeks after the visit. And then I am torn between knowing the information being collected will be subject to an audit at some point. The absence of a data point may count against the clinic. The outcomes of the audits matter, as they form the basis of how cinics can access additional “best practise tariff” and hopefully claw some back from the hospital trust so the services they offer remain excellent and at the forefront of current technologies. Obviously my loyalty lies with my daughter. But the knowledge that she is able to have support using the tech she wants to to manage her diabetes is only possible if her clinic is properly resourced and funded. And that means keeping certain tick boxes checked. Because that is the main way the clinic is judged. So I continue my silent battle in my head each time she is asked to step onto the scales. Instead, I ready myself for the wobble that sometimes follows. There is no need for her to be concerned about any number displayed on those scales. Pumplette is exactly the right weight for a Pumplette. A perfect weight. A nothing-to-give-a-second-thought-to weight. A perfectly formed perfect person. A perfectly formed, perfect person shaped person. A young woman who possesses more poise, grace, tenacity, empathy and compassion than pretty much any adult I have ever come across.

The messages I wish my daughters to carry ahead and into the world with them will never be written in a fashion magazine or displayed on a set of scales.

The messages I wish them to carry forward are actually pretty much all contained in the lyrics of the aforementioned Baz Luhrmann song. If they follow those instructions into their adult lives, they’ll continue to be perfectly perfect human beings. Because, and I’ll let you into a little secret, they already are.

Disclaimer – Pumplette had full sight of this post & the right to edit as she saw fit. She didn’t change a word & has given her blessing to it being published. I never write about her without her express consent & maintain her right to veto any copy.

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