Several years ago, I read an Instagram post that of course I didn’t save, so I cannot give it proper attribution. But the gist of it was “Don’t talk to your kids about their bodies or about your body except to explain to them how bodies work.” I get the intent behind that idea. Don’t offer any commentary at all – positive or negative – about the way they, or we, or anyone looks. Keep body talk for health and hygiene and basic mechanics.
But I’m starting to think about Body Talk with my daughter more like talking to her about sex. If I am not proactive, the world is going to fill her up for me.
Just like with sex, our kids are going to be saturated with messages about their bodies and other people’s bodies. We don’t want to leave a void there – their peers and media and other adults will fill that void. We need to get out ahead of the body conversation.
My typical M.O. is to wait for a “teachable moment”, like the one that happened on a rambling walk through the neighborhood this summer.
My five year old daughter and I encountered one of our neighbor families as we strolled down our street. The three kids were riding their bikes to the park as the dad jogged along behind them. The oldest neighbor girl, Annie, is eleven years old. As my daughter and I walked home, my kiddo turned to me and asked “Mom, why is Annie fat?”
Obviously, this smashed all my trigger buttons at once. My first impulse was to shriek “She’s not FAT!! We never talk about someone’s body!!”. But I paused just long enough to pull up scripts from some of the women who have written about raising body-neutral kids and tried this instead:
“Why do you say that Annie is fat?”
“Because she has a round tummy and it sticks out under her shirt.”
“Well, Annie is older than you, so her body is going to be bigger than you or your friends’ bodies. And, she’s right around the age where girls start to grow very quickly, and their bodies change from being like a little girl to looking more like a woman. Women are meant to have curvier, softer bodies than little girls.”
“It’s OK to talk with me about these kinds of questions, but we should not talk to our friends about other people’s bodies, because it can really hurt people’s feelings.”
“Well, because some people tease people about how they look, or to say unkind things about other people’s bodies. And that hurts people’s feelings. We know that it is never OK to tease someone about how they look. People look different from one another, and that’s a good thing.”
“Right, because if everyone looked the same, we wouldn’t know who is who!”
“Right! Remember that All Bodies are Good Bodies.”
I desperately want us both to really believe that all bodies are good bodies.
I don’t know how long I can “Fake It Till I Make It” as I teach my daughter body acceptance that I still struggle to absorb myself. My dear friend of over 20 years, Roxanne, and I had a conversation about all of this recently. She’s a momma of four, with one teenager already. They have been having Body Talks for years now. She encouraged me to be more transparent with my kiddo about my own struggles, and how hard it can be to love my own body and how easy it can be to judge other people’s bodies.
Next time we have a conversation about bodies, I’ll tell my daughter that when I was younger, people teased me about my body. Even now that I’m a grown up, it is still hard for me to love my body. If she’s still listening, I’ll tell her how proud I am of my body for growing her and giving birth to her. I’ll tell her that I’m thankful that my body works well, and I don’t have any real pain or illness.
I’ll remind her about how she is fearfully and wonderfully made – how we ALL are – no matter how we look or what our bodies do easily or struggle to do at all.
I’ll tell her how people who want you to buy the things they are selling will tell you that you have to look a certain way to be happy, and I’ll tell her that that is a huge lie.
My daughter saw me do the iconic Suck and Zip to put on some jeans the other day. I wonder if she has noticed that my body has gotten bigger over the past year. She hasn’t made any comments, but she notices everything. I started riding our stationary bike just about every day a few months ago and she asked me why. I told her it is because we’ve been indoors for so long, I haven’t gotten as much exercise as my body needs. I want to be strong and feel good, so I use the bike. That’s true, of course. Partly true.
I’m living in the tension of body acceptance and wanting to be smaller. In the slogging murk of wanting to “be healthy” and “lose the pandemic weight” while trying not to give in to disordered eating and compulsive exercise.
Here’s what I’m trying hard to absorb every day: It’s OK if I gained weight EVEN IF I never lose it. Even if this is just my middle aged, pandemic surviving, macchiato drinking body now. Bodies change. Bodies age. Yes, I do want to keep an eye on my blood pressure. Yes, I will create habits to move my body more because I want to still be moving when my kiddo is in high school and college (older mom problems). I want to get the gold stars at my next physical. And if I can fit back into my favorite dress by spring 2022, that would be great, too.