Listen, we’re all insecure in some way or another, and I’m definitely no exception. The moment we sashay out of our mother’s wombs in a shower of glitter and rainbows (that’s how it works, right?) we’re ingrained with the idea that we will never, ever be good enough just the way we are. Too fat, too skinny, too smart, too dumb, too shy, too outgoing, blah blah blah, on and on and on. It’s how they get us to buy a bunch of shit we don’t need, and how they drive us further and further away from the reality of our own bodies and minds. Thanks, Photoshop, for a lifetime of unattainable body image issues. Super awesome.
The reality of how the world projects unattainable body images became very prevalent to me after the birth of my daughter. It wasn’t all at once of course, but as she grew and morphed into an actual human being with thoughts and feelings of her own, it became pretty obvious. Kids are pretty great at pointing out all your flaws that you may have overlooked (or tried to pretend weren’t super obvious).
“Mommy, if everyone is pretty just the way there are, why do you wear makeup?”
“If it doesn’t matter if someone is skinny or fat, how come you get sad when you think you’re fat?”
Thanks, kid, for showing me what a god-awful hypocrite I am, GEEZE. But seriously, I think we (mothers/fathers/parents) really underestimate how much our kids watch us and learn from us. This was a pretty huge blow for me and over the past few years I’ve decided to change a few things; specifically about the way I talk to my daughter and how I talk about myself and others in front of my daughter.
1. Encourage healthy eating and exercise but never make it about weight.
I got rid of all the scales in my house recently. I’ve always been the type of person to yo-yo between working out every single day like a crazy person, to considering picking up dog poop enough physical effort for the week. I used to weigh myself once a week, either to my momentary elation or everlasting shame. This wasn’t healthy, and my daughter was taking notice. I realized that I felt really, really good when I was eating better and working out –not just about actually, you know, physically doing something, but actually physically better. As soon as I stepped on that scale, however, and saw how much weight I hadn’t lost, I forgot what was really important:
I also won’t force her to play sports she hates just so she can stay active, and I’ll encourage running and physical exertion because it can help with things like stress, anxiety, and a variety of other health concerns- and a lot of times it can be fun and will make you feel good afterwards! There will be zero mention of weight or appearance.
2. Don’t compliment her (solely on) her appearance
I don’t mean never, ever, ever tell her she looks nice, but I think we have a real habit of automatically complimenting little girls solely on their appearance. ‘OMGEEE she’s just so cute!’ ‘She’s such a skinny little thing!’ ‘She’s sure to break all the boys’ hearts!’ I get it, I really do, but this reduces our daughters to their appearance and their appearance alone. I’ve made a real effort to stop and tell my daughter how smart she is, how much I appreciate her kindness and thoughtfulness, how wonderful it is that she’s such a good friend and student. This is far, far more important than how cute she looks in a dress or how many boys she’ll get when she’s older.
3. Don’t talk about my weight or appearance in a negative way
I was (and sometimes still am) really bad at being negative about myself. I frequently used to say things like ‘I feel fat today,’ or ‘I look gross in these jeans,’ or ‘I don’t eat that because I’m trying to lose weight’ (definitely still guilty of the last one) and if my daughter is in the room she always has this sort of sad/defensive look that I’ve come to understand over the years. I’m her mother, she loves me, she thinks I’m beautiful and smart and wonderful, and when I talk badly about myself… it hurts her. It also makes her question herself based on the same standards of criteria and prompts her to look at the rest of the world through the same lens.
This is bad, I will not do this, no matter how bloated I am.
4. Periods are not gross or weird, damnit
First of all, screw you dude-bro who read that and cringed and fell all over himself because OH MY GOD WOMEN HAVE PERIODS. Second of all, I will not have my daughter be ashamed of one of the most natural processes on the planet that is literally responsible for the creation of human life. Periods can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, but they do not make us disgusting or weird. I will not have my daughter growing up like I did — where a tampon was a foreign and offending object that I was somehow supposed to figure out on my own using pictures I barely understood. It’s normal, it’s going to happen, and there is exactly ZERO shame in that.
Tampons are also excellent for nosebleeds, so there.
5. Don’t talk about other people’s weight or appearance
‘Wow, you look great, have you lost weight?’ is a pretty common thing among women (and maybe men too?) but to a kid it means something pretty problematic: everyone looks better if they’re really skinny, the skinnier you are the better, and if you aren’t skinny then you don’t look good. It’s much better to say someone looks healthy, or happy! Because those things are actually really, really important and it teaches our children that appearance is secondary to who we are as a person.
It’s also very important not to be hyper-critical of other women in front of our daughters, to mock or sardonically comment on how other women dress or on their weight. This can turn into something of a pastime for some people, but it is incredibly damaging to the children who overhear it and it teaches them to first judge a person based off a series of checklists rather than on who they are as an individual. Children aren’t born judgmental, we make them that way. Let’s teach them to judge quality things like, you know, movie and music taste.
I struggle with pretty much every single point on this list, but it is so important to me that my daughter understands her worth outside of what she looks like. That she understands how smart, and sweet, and strong, and kind she is. It is forcing me to confront my own self-conscious demons (of which, I have several) and it’s been difficult, more difficult than I had imagined. That said, I believe it will ultimately make both of our lives better.