I've been seeing a lot of people posting and referencing articles on how parents should talk to their daughter about her body. This topic has been on my mind for about 12 years. Well, truthfully, at least 24 years. Because that is when I was put on my first diet. I was in fifth grade.
will admit fully that it took me some years to forgive my parents for
putting me on diets and letting my brothers call me "extra large and in
charge" and "wide load" for much of my youth. I used to blame them
(inwardly) for the low esteem I had for my own body. "If only they
hadn't put me on all of those diets while my brothers got to eat--nay,
were encouraged to eat--everything they could put their hands on." I
remember going to early hour high school at 6:55 a.m. with a piece of
whole wheat toast with cucumbers and fat-free ranch on it for my
breakfast and thinking, "I must be really fat to deserve this."
took me years to realize that my parents were actually really kind to
care about me and want me to be physically content with myself. They
were putting me on diets because they were sincerely trying to help me. I
was never thin, but I was never large. If only I could wear the pants I
wore in high school when I thought I was "fat!" Wait, scratch that. It
was the 90s and those pants were not awesome.
I don't hold a grudge against my parents any longer. What I put into my
body now is totally my own choice. I cannot blame them for my desire to
eat three scoops of ice cream or half a loaf of french bread with a
hefty wedge of brie cheese. I can blame them for giving me really big
quads and boobs, though. Because I know they planned on handing down
those genes to me. Right?!
spent so much of my youth worrying about my pant size and my weight. I
will never forget in elementary school when the teacher had us all stand
up and pinch our bellies. She said if we could "pinch an inch" then we
needed to eat less. I was mortified. I don't even think I knew how big
an inch was, but I was sure that I needed to eat less.
do I give all of my children the right tools to deal with their bodies
and self image? I've been trying to figure that out for most of my adult
HERE'S WHAT I DO KNOW:
1. All children are beautiful.
kids don't even look like the are related to each other, but MAN, they
are so beautiful. How amazing are these little people and all of their
twinkling eyes and goofy grins? Sometimes I am baffled that any little
kid could think they are anything but beautiful. Created in the image of
2. All bodies are SUPPOSED to look different.
What is this? The year 2439 when all humans will be genetically engineered to look the exact same? Uh, no.
3. Food is fuel.
need to eat to survive. Calories in other countries are called "energy"
which is what they give you. Stop giving negative connotations to
simple words. The more close to nature the food, the more energy it
gives our bodies. The end.
HERE'S WHAT I THINK:
1. Eating should not be considered "good" or "bad".
mentioned this one to me and it rung so true that I heard bells for
days. Kids hear when their parents say that they had a bad eating day or
that they were good because of their food choices. Children have very simple categories: stealing is
bad; sharing is good; hitting is bad; hugging is good. When they eat
something full of sugar and hear the word "bad" alongside it, what are
they grouping it with? Cheating, lying and murder? No wonder we feel
guilt when we indulge in certain types of food.
2. Children need praise for all kinds of things, especially things that they can control / don't change
is more fickle than our bodies. We can easily break, scratch, burn and
go bald. If all of our self esteem is in the way we look, then WATCH
OUT! Because age screws everyone. I actually dislike when someone
comments on if I have lost weight. It makes me feel like I am doing it
for anyone other than myself and that it is important to everyone else. I
love when someone compliments me on something I have
said/done/accomplished or how I treated someone or made someone happy.
Of course, I do like/need to hear that my husband finds me attractive.
Fickle, fickle me.
3. We shouldn't avoid talking about bodies with our children.
because we shouldn't always be commending (or worse, degrading) our
children's bodies, doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about them. It's a
tricky subject, to be sure, and I am still not sure the best way to do
this. Not so long ago, I had a talk with my oldest daughter about how
our bodies change every decade or so and we have to reassess what we eat
and how we exercise. If I ate only Cheetos all day now, I would get
really shaky and nauseated. Fifteen years ago, I would have been fine. I
tried to explain to her that she needs to start thinking about what she
eats and how she stays physically active. "You can no longer eat like a
child," I told her, "because your body doesn't think it is a child." I
explained that I wanted her to know what I wish I had known, so I could
make wise decisions for myself.
was feeling like this was a good direction to help her learn and
understand her body better. But, what happened? She cried and let me
know that she thought she was larger than all of her friends.
Cue: mother heart breaking.
little friend, you're beautiful. You're kind and funny and super smart.
This is just how we learn to take care of our bodies.
I need to share the knowledge I have gained, without any pressure. Kids
need to learn to eat well and exercise because it feels good and makes
them happy. If it is negative pressure (or forced upon them) (or if,
like me, they are the only child on a special diet), they will want to
push back and control the situation. Or they will feel guilt and
do tell my daughter she is beautiful. I also tell my sons that they are
handsome. But I hope that what they hear more often is how much I like
them for the people they are inside their bodies. Whatever they look
like now or in the future is not nearly as big of a deal as the kind of
people they are--how they treat people, their humor, work ethic,
empathy, knowledge, etc.
it's not as easy as some articles I have read. It's not about avoiding
talking about their bodies. Frankly, if parents don't begin the
conversation on how to love and care for your own body, kids will never
want to talk to their parents when they have questions/concerns.
also not about only telling your kid they are beautiful all of the
time. Or never mentioning that they are beautiful. It is somewhere in
the middle. Methinks.
still struggle with my own reflection. But when I find something
positive, I make sure that my children hear me showing gratitude for my
self and the things my body can do. It will never look like it did when I
was in high school, but oh FREAKING well. That doesn't make me any less
what you got. Let your kids know you love them in millions of ways
other than their appearance. Teach them how to take care of their
bodies. Get some perspective on life--it's not all about what you look
like. Same goes for your kids.