“My mom made me do Zumba with her the other night because she was feeling fat and didn’t want to work out alone.”

I was startled by how casually my 10-year-old hip hop student told me about her Zumba night with her mother.

“You eat McDonald’s all the time,” another 10-year-old in the class said. “Better watch out!”

A few years ago, I likely would have been so triggered by this kind of conversation that I would have been distracted and distant for the duration of the class I was about to teach.

Instead, I knelt to my sweet, sweet student’s level – a conscientious young woman who asked me when my birthday was on the first day of class, remembered it, and asked me how I celebrated after it had passed – and said, “I’m going to tell you something really important. And I want you to try really hard to remember it, forever. I mean forever. When you’re 22 like me and someone asks you about a childhood memory, I want you to tell them that this is what your hip hop teacher told you when you were 10. Okay? Do you think you can remember?”

She nodded, put her fingers to the sides of her head, and closed her eyes. “Okay, I’m ready,” she said seriously.

“If you EVER… “feel fat”… remind yourself that that is a lie of a feeling. It’s not part of you or your beauty. Remind yourself that you are beautiful and wonderful exactly how you are, and you don’t have to ever punish yourself for a negative feeling. Remind yourself of the reasons you love doing exercise, and do your favourite ones. “Feeling fat” is a lie. Okay?”

“Okay. I promise to remember!”

My heart broke for the mother who could only muster the will to do a workout because she “felt fat.”

My soul hurt passionately for the many people around the world who try a million things prescribed to them for the purpose of fitting into the Western world’s current prescribed ideal body (which changes).

I taught that hip hop class with an uncanny emphasis on fun, shoving off the ever-so-tiny voice in my own brain that sometimes still wonders how fast my heart rate gets when I dance or how many calories I burn.

And I said a promise to myself, to my future child, and to God, that I would remember the words I gave my beautiful, perfectly imperfect student, too.

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