A few short weeks ago, I heard the long-dreaded words from the mouth of my 10-year old daughter: “Mommy, is my butt fat?”
All-at-once, I was transported back to a very dark but familiar place. I wanted to cry. I wanted to erupt into a defiant NO! But I had no breath. I knew that my sensitive and inquisitive girl was completely tuned in to my reaction. I knew that I had to get this right.
I thrust into my vault of personal experience and managed a casual tone. “Your butt is perfect, just like the rest of you. And the best part is that it’s super strong. Those are the muscles that power you up hills on your bike.” Then, I held my breath and I waited. Her quick affirmation and change of topic let me know that she was satisfied. For now. This discussion isn’t closed. I know we’ll revisit body talk again soon.
Silence the Blow-By-Blow
Can we all agree to ban self-critical language when talking about appearance? As the daughter of a mother who constantly verbalized her dislike for her body, I know firsthand the devastating effects of negative body talk. My mother’s was the first adult female body I ever observed, and I thought she was beautiful. It crushed my spirit that she thought otherwise.
Beneath my mother’s derogatory dialog was my concerned inner voice that asked, “What’s wrong with MY body?” Which parts were too small or too big? Too thick or too thin? Too soft or too bony? Was anything about my physical appearance just right?
This Goldilocks mentality infested my brain for more than a decade. It’s my fervent hope that I can safeguard my precious girl from ever having a negative thought about her own body. While that’s unrealistic, I at least want to equip her with the tools to maintain an overall healthy body image. I discovered a great blog a while back that provides resources for this very topic: A Mighty Girl – Positive Books for Mighty Girls!
Food is Fuel
In my late 20s, the eventual realization that strong is beautiful saved me from self-destructive behavior and a love/hate relationship with food. I nurtured my inner athlete and learned how to properly fuel my body for physical performance. It’s impossible, for example, to train for and successfully complete (especially injury free) a marathon if you don’t take in enough calories. As I set my sights on more challenging goals, it became clear to me that good nutrition was an essential element.
Today, I help my accomplished dancer and junior cyclist focus on what her body can do versus what it looks like. We talk about the foods her body needs to grow and get stronger. If she wants to go for a 20-mile ride or has an extra-long dance rehearsal, we prepare accordingly. Yes, we bake and eat homemade cookies on a regular basis! But we balance that with a diet that is also rich in a variety of organic fruits and vegetables, rice, pasta and lean protein.
Dress To Feel Great
As girls pay closer attention to what they wear and what other girls are wearing, clothes can have an impact on body image. It occurred to me while watching Isabella tugging at a waistline that was too high and a sleeve that was too snug, how quick we are to find fault with ourselves when clothes don’t fit properly. (The dress is wrong, not you!)
We recently went shopping for a dress for our local ‘daddy-daughter’ dance. I let Isabella literally fill up the dressing room with choices – every dress that struck her fancy. I then took on the role of personal stylist, taking each dress off the hanger and handing them to her one by one. Now, I’ll be completely honest: there were some dresses among her selection that I was not buying under any circumstances, mostly because they weren’t age appropriate. Imagine “Toddlers and Tiaras” meets “Real Housewives.” No way.
I let her try on even the most cringe-worthy selections so that she could make her own decisions about them. My unspoken prayers were answered when she labeled several of them “creepy” and “wrong” and banished them to the reject rack. We both knew instantly when she’d found the dress. It was the one that made her glow with confidence and it perfectly suited her personal style. I’m so proud of her for going with the feel-good choice.
So, here we are on the cusp of teenager-dom, and I know my daughter will be continually exposed to images and experiences that could influence her thoughts and feelings about her own body. While I have no control over that, I can do my best to model healthy habits and provide a sounding board when she wants to broach the subject again. I can also spring for ice cream on occasion.5