To Be Happy, Her Dad Said, A Girl Must Be Pretty, But Not Fat
To give the man the credit he was due, he just wanted his daughter to be happy, and he knew what it took for a girl to be happy. She had to be pretty, and that meant not fat. She also had to have money, and that meant she had to get an education so she could take care of herself, because a girl couldn’t count on a man.
Wanting this for his girl, he set about to help her achieve those goals the best way he knew how. And that is why she hated him.
The man had two daughters, born seventeen years apart. He had wanted the same good things for both of them, but he knew he had failed with the first girl. So, when the second girl came along, he knew what he had to do. He started early and threw every bit of his energy into raising this baby right. The baby was a pretty child, so he could focus his efforts on preparing her to make money. “When you get big,” he crooned to her, “you’ll do big things, have things, and go places. You’re going to be somebody.”
To warn her of the dangers of failure, he used the example of the older daughter, called Sister. “It’s a shame and disgrace what your sister did to herself. She was the prettiest girl in town, and she could have amounted to something. But she’s never done a thing with her life. I did the best I could. I put her in college. Then she quit and ran off to be in the army. I washed my hands of her.” That made Baby both sad and scared. She loved Sister. Everybody did. Sister was happy and fun to be with, but she was poor.
“You’re not going to be like your sister, married to some man with no education, living hand-to-mouth. She’s had to come to me to borrow money for groceries and rent. If she’d just listened to me…. But you won’t be in her shoes. You’ll never have to depend on a man – even if you got a good man, he might die. You’ll be able to stand on your own two feet.” Yes, she decided, she would get her education. She wouldn’t be like Sister. She didn’t want Daddy to wash his hands of her too someday.
Along with motivators and warnings, the man raised his little girl on heaping helpings of praise. “You’re pretty as a picture and you’re smart as a whip! You can do anything you ever want.” He beamed with satisfaction when someone said, “Just look at those blue eyes. Your daughter is beautiful.”
As the girl got older and more independent, the man started seeing danger signs that she might be getting off track, and he worked to reel her in. “Stop running around, playing, like you don’t have good sense. Read a book. Learn something.”
Her favorite game was making up scenes and acting them out. When he overheard, he made fun of her. “Folks may think you’re crazy for talking to yourself. But they’ll know you’re crazy if you answer.” He walked away laughing at his joke, and repeated it to her uncle.
As her friends started to have more influence, he worried. “Those girls don’t have any more ambition than to get married and have a bunch of babies. They’ll be old by the time they’re thirty. Drop them. They won’t do you any good. Hang around people who are going to matter.”
Then, when Baby reached her preteen years, something seriously concerning happened. She started to put on weight. The man couldn’t let her do that to herself. “You’re getting chunky. You need to get some exercise. Stop sitting on the couch all day drawing those silly pictures.”
The man knew he was doing the right thing for her. He saw how unhappy fat girls were. He pointed out a girl who lived on their street, Venie Frasier. “She’s so fat,” he said, “she had to stop school when she was nine because she couldn’t fit into a desk. And it’s a shame too because she has a pretty face with skin as smooth as milk.”
Venie was a fine motivator. When Baby reached for a piece of candy, he said, “Why, here’s Venie, stuffing her face with candy.”
At a family dinner, when Baby asked for a second helping of banana pudding, he said, “Okay, Venie, help yourself. But don’t blame me when you’re big as a horse.” He turned to her uncle and said, “Oh, well. At least she’s got her Mama’s complexion.”
She got off the couch and exercised. He should have liked that, but she bumped a table, and he said, “You flit around like a baby elephant. Stop it and act like a lady.” Baby was afraid she would never be rich and thin and pretty.
When she was in high school, she finally lost the weight. She grew up, went to college, and moved far away from home. Driven by the fear that she would never look good enough, be graceful enough, or successful enough, she worked hard, made a lot of money, and bought a big house.
Sometimes she sent the man pictures of her big house and the places she traveled, so he could show his friends what he’d accomplished. The man had just wanted his daughter to be happy, and he had known what it took for a girl to be happy. He had done his job well.