When my daughter was a little girl we had a storybook that explained all of the different parts of her body and how each one had a unique and special job to do. It was a cool book with great pictures and it gave her a sense of awe that we all should have about the unique and complex functions of our bodies.
As she got older, our discussions morphed into talking about the exteriors of our bodies. You know, about our shape (all wrong) and our hair (again, all wrong). How my body needed more exercise, how hers wasn’t functioning as well as the other girls at certain sports. How the cutest-ever clothes didn’t look right on us. Toss in our eyes (mine too small) or her waist (not defined enough) and we had the perfect all-American recipe for hating our bodies based on what the culture told us they should look like and how they should perform.
You know what I’m talking about. We’re all guilty. I will not make excuses for my bad parenting in this area, but I will explain some reasons for it. I spent my entire childhood, through high school graduation, chubby and homely. (I know you’re going to flip over to my picture on The Grit and Grace Project About Us page and think I’m crazy or a liar, but I’m being brutally honest). I was the only girl to wear glasses, have a pot belly, and have her mom cut her bangs brutally short every year of elementary school when all the other girls had long, lush locks. I couldn’t hit a softball or fly over a low pole vault bar to save my life. In sixth grade, the boys refused to play Spin the Bottle at a class party (don’t ask how the teacher got away with this) unless I sat out.
No one ever told me I was beautiful, or pretty, or special. I’m not having a pity party here; I’m just setting the stage for the completely un-thought-about words I let spew out of my mouth as I raised a daughter. I went on to run too much and eat too little for a few years after I graduated college and began my career. Eventually I married a man who was healthy and fit and made it clear I was not, and as I relaxed and ate more and became less obsessive he loved me in a way that made all my “dieting” seem what it was, an illness. But it was ultimately up to me, not him, to change my perspective—and my words and food attitude in front of my daughter.
I know it’s much worse for girls now. Every magazine, TV show, TV commercial, Social Media Marketing and classmate at every age is making a big deal about being skinny. Many young women are focused on barely eating (or, conversely, eating anything they want) rather than healthy eating. The word “diet” is so much a part of our vocabulary that we don’t even think about it at all when we say it, much less whose ears might be listening.
But it was ultimately up to me, not him, to change my perspective—and my words and food attitude in front of my daughter.
So how do moms talk to their daughters and in front of their daughters (and I think this has to start in the toddler years) in a way that helps them gain a sense of wellness about their bodies? Here are a few suggestions, although I know many of you have even better ones:
1. Start telling her as a baby that she is beautiful. That her toes are beautiful, her nose, her smile, her eyes.
2. Praise what she does naturally with her body. Crawl, walk, jump, dance, or climb. Encourage her to kick balls and throw balls and do cartwheels across the backyard.
3. Tell her she is strong. Tell her she is healthy. Tell her she looks strong and healthy!
4. Don’t talk about dieting in front of her. Just don’t. If you’re going to diet, do it without making a big deal. If you decide to give up carbs and she notices, don’t tell her they make you “fat.” Just say they’ve been giving you a stomachache (which actually is true for many of us).
5. Teach her how to eat, not what to eat or not eat. Show her how to make amazing salads and fill up on them, but let her top it off with a cookie if she wants one. Making healthy food fun and not making a big deal of junk food will help prioritize them in her mind.
6. Demonstrate a love for yourself as much as possible. Don’t put on something that makes you feel fat and then complain about it; just take it off, put on something that makes you look fantastic, and tell her how great you feel in it. In a store dressing room it’s just as easy to say “I don’t like it” as it is to say “It makes me look huge.”
7. Demonstrate a love for other women—all sizes and races of women!
8. Teach her how to combat stress with a walk, jog, or a Wii sports game. Or gardening. Do it with her.
9. Don’t agonize over the abnormal eating opportunities that come a couple of times a year (i.e. Thanksgiving and Christmas). Make sure your meal includes some healthy dishes next to the stuffing and pie. Again, don’t make a big deal; eat reasonably in front of her to set the example.
10. Help her find a sport or fitness activity she likes. Anything. When she gets involved, she’ll discover that all shapes and weights of girls and women are on the field, at the gym, on the yoga floor and running 5Ks. And she’ll see that they are healthy even though they don’t look like each other or like they walked off the pages of magazines.
I realize this list isn’t exhaustive, nor does it take into account physiological factors like depression, diabetes, or a sluggish metabolism. It’s meant to prompt you to ponder and be intentional about helping your daughter the best you can to accept her body so that she will take good care of it.
Ultimately, your goal is to be healthy and kind to yourself; that will be the very best lesson for your daughter. She will watch and listen to you from birth; let her hear words that affirm both of you for the beautiful and unique ways you are made, inside and out.
You’ll also like Grit and Grace in Hot Pink Spandex, Can I Be a Hippie in Heels? Balancing a Healthy Lifestyle, and 5 Easy Ways to Maintain Your Health