Last Saturday morning I grabbed an Orange Theory Fitness workout to justify the remaining weekend of sloth – sitting on the couch with the dog watching Netflix and eating Valentine’s candy. Next to me on the treadmill was a mother daughter duo. Mom is very thin with sculpted arms – that one housewife at a cocktail party who can confidently wear a sleeveless shift dress and know she will spend the evening being the envy of everyone. Definitely the neighborhood’s hot wife, for sure. Looking at her workout intensity you know she is proud of her body and it’s important to her that others admire her work.

When waiting to go in, she was talking to another member about how she tracks every bite she eats while her daughter sat on the bench validating it. Mom was even joking that she tried an all natural dog cookie and didn’t know how to log it, followed by hysterical laughter and explanation that the cookie was all “human” food which is why she tried it. The woman she was talking to shared Oreos are her weakness….that she can eat a whole sleeve in five minutes so she needs to keep them out of the house.

Daughter can’t be more than 13 years old. She’s skinny like the average 13 year old girl would be. Nothing has really begun to form or take shape on her body yet. Cute, freckled, crinkle nosed smile and a side ponytail. Clad in local junior high school team t-shirt and extra small black leggings. She looked like she should be on her way to girls’ soccer practice. Instead, mom’s got her doing high intensity fitness and weight lifting. The kid is burning at least 600 calories in this workout.

It’s a week later and it’s still bothering me. On my way out Thursday night, I saw them again on their way in for the 6:45 class. Shouldn’t she be home doing homework? Texting her friends about boys? Maybe it’s their mother/daughter bonding time. It’s just that Mom goes into her own zone during the workouts. She’s intense, like she’s hanging onto her husband and neighborhood envy the way the rest of us are clinging to survival. There is no laughter or smirking at her daughter. No conversation between them. They are enduring separate, quiet workouts. They are disconnected…unbonded.

I can’t believe this workout could be healthy for a little girl whose body is still developing. Not only that, she has no weight problem or even hint of one later in life so it’s not even a misguided attempt at trying to help her kid lose weight so can get through the teen years without bullying for her appearance. And what does this do to that child’s mind? Does she know she is expected to look like her mom? Is she aware of the tacit message being delivered…look the best, be the best looking in class, the best looking wife, the envy of every cocktail party?

What pops into my mind are the years of the Obama White House when people focused on Michelle Obama’s arms in sleeveless dresses. She was a knockout. Tall, fit and attractive. Fashionable. She was also an incredibly intelligent, accomplished, educated lawyer but that’s not what anyone focused on. Just her body. Is that what this little girl is supposed to grow up to be? The woman with the gorgeous arms? Even as First Lady?

I can’t fault Mom for this. It’s societal expectation and Mom figured out how to meet and exceed the bar. Not only that, she is paying it forward to her kid because she knows it’s important…perhaps more important than her education or bonding over books or “This is Us.” Maybe I am bent out of shape because I failed to meet expectations. I am no trophy wife. I am still not even anyone’s wife.

My mom tried to bond with me over the Hilton Head Diet while eating plain toast and grapefruit. When I lost weight she would take me shopping to buy new clothes as a reward. But I still failed. My mom was the pretty one in school. I wasn’t. Even at 70, my mom is the pretty mom. She looks much younger than her peers. It’s quite a bit to live up to.

I don’t know this little girl’s name but she has seeped inside of me. I feel for her physical and mental health. I fear the vapidness she is being raised to celebrate. I don’t have a great body and I obsess about it. I am constantly in turmoil over what I know I should be doing and the wanting to live like a normal person who eats chocolate when I want to and fruit when I want to. My daily food plan and calories to burn consume my mind. But I also have a very rich intellectual life so I will be ok. Is this girl obsessing about her body already when there are no red flags?

I just don’t think this girl belongs at my gym with the eating disorder recoverers, the post baby body punishers, the midlife crisis males, the “how did this happen” middle aged parents, the trophy wives (her Mom) and 20something approval seeking bar crowd. She’s a little girl with a little girl’s body and totally undeveloped hormones and brain. In fact, those things are still unsettled into the mid-20s. So much time left to be a kid and yet she’s pulling up her body weight on TRX straps, running “all outs, doing burpees and lifting weights over her head. Is this all girls are supposed to be?