Body Image – and a Thank You to my Mother

There are some things in life that can’t be fully appreciated until you experience them for yourself.  This is especially true of parenthood.

For instance, I could never figure out how my parents knew that my brother and I were about to start fighting before we actually did.  But now I know that it is related to the frenzied state that overtakes your kids just before someone gets hurt.  I also recall my Mom once telling me that “you are only ever as happy as your least happy child”.  This never resonated with me until I had kids.  But now I fully grasp the startling truth behind this statement.

I recently saw something on Facebook (see below) that made me reflect on my upbringing and what I want for my daughter.

Body image is a tricky issue for girls. It seems to me that this is especially true today.  The internet and social media often serve to undermine a girl’s self-confidence.  Let’s face it, if you search long enough, you will no doubt find evidence confirming that you are the wrong height, weight, hair colour, eye colour, skin colour or “type” – take your pick.  Given all of the forces working against girls, a parent’s role in instilling a positive body image is critical.

It never occurred to me until I had a daughter that my mother never, ever (not once) mentioned weight in my presence while I was growing up. She never talked to me about her weight or appearance, or anyone else’s for that matter. While we certainly ate well at home, my brother and I had our fair share of treats too. We were also encouraged to try out different sports. But food and sports were never talked about in the context of weight or appearance.

There are a million thank yous that I have never relayed to my parents. So let me take this opportunity to say one specific thank you. Thank you, Mom, for instilling in me a healthy body image – for letting me eat chocolate chip cookie dough and chips; for encouraging me to skate and ski and play softball, tennis and soccer; and for teaching me everything I need to know to do the same for my daughter.

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How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.

Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.

If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:

“You look so healthy!” is a great one.

Or how about, “You’re looking so strong.”

“I can see how happy you are — you’re glowing.”

Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.

Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.

Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.

Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say, “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.

Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.

Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with.

Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture.

Teach your daughter how to cook kale.

Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.

Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.

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