I couldn't believe it. My daughter's good friend was going on and on (for a good 10 minutes) about how much she hated snow pants because they made her look fat. And then it happened. She got them on and she asked me if I thought her snow pants made her look fat.
She's NINE. years. old.
"Of course not," I told her. "And you have nothing to worry about. Eh-ver-eebody that you'll be with already knows that you're strong and healthy. Annnnd. They will be wearing snow pants too! And I'll bet they won't even think about how you look. They're probably thinking about all the hills y'all are about to sled down. I promise. "
I knew that this moment was going to happen. I knew it from the very moment I learned we were having a girl, that because our society still insists upon objectifying women and girls, body image would be a very real THING that we'd have to deal with.
For eight years, I worked REALLY hard to instill a strong and enduring body positive confidence in Juniper. I knew that I needed to work really hard on that so that when the moment came, she would be armed with a powerful inner strength that would help her win each little battle in the never ending war with negative body image that little girls begin to battle at all too young an age.
So how do we talk to our daughters about their bodies?
(Unless it's about teaching her about how it works.)
I did a lot of research and found that the best way to come through to daughters is through example.
Just like with everything else you've got to practice what you preach. And that is no easy task. Especially when it comes to body image! It means that we have to grapple with our very own juju around body image. That means unlearning 20, 30, 40 years of juju. And for some of us, that's big. And scary. And something we'd rather not deal with right now, thank you.
But we've GOT to!
If we want to make a difference, to cultivate happier and healthier young women, to change the way our culture treats women and girls, we've got to be the ones who stand up and DO THE HARD WORK. Because if we don't, nothing changes. We simply pass down this bullshit to our daughters and maybe hope that they do the hard work.
Do The Hard Work —
The 3 Don'ts and the 5 Do's
Stop talking about your body. Don't talk mention whether or not you've lost weight. Don't mention whether or not you've gained weight. If you can't stop cold turkey, then at least commit to not talking about your body in the presence of your children, girl or boy (because let's face it, that's just one of the million ways that boys internalize the idea that girls' bodies should be judged).
Stop talking about other people's bodies. We have GOT to stop critiquing other women's bodies! The one thing that really makes me absolutely ape-shit-batty is when I see grown women talk about other women's bodies. It happens All. Of. Thee. Time! And it happens right in front of our daughters. We pick up a People magazine and we talk about O my gosh! Did you see what such-n-such-celebrity wore? She looked awful! She looked absolutely gorgeous! She totally gained some weight. She's so damn skinny. She's totally anorexic. I wonder what kind of diet she's on. What did she do to her hair? Her hair is so gorgeous! She totally has a muffin top! She has the best abs ever! Did you see that picture of her in that bathing suit? She totally rocked it. I bet they totally airbrushed that. . . . and the list goes on and on. And let's please stop talking about how she looks at the Academy Awards, or the Oscars, or the Emmy's or Grammy's . . . OUR GIRLS HEAR ALL OF THIS! And they internalize that it's okay to judge other people by the way they look. They internalize that it's important for girls/women to look a certain way. They internalize that they have to look that certain way. (I specifically mention to not judge celebrities here, but also, we need to stop judging other "regular" women — that chic in your yoga/pilates/spin/whatever class, your girlfriends, your frenemies . . . other people's daughters.)
Stop talking about diets. Or whether or not you're eating carbs, or fats, or sugar. Talk instead about eating healthy and making healthy choices. We teach our daughters about fueling their bodies with the nutrients it needs to be strong, and healthy, and capable by our own example.
DO teach our daughters (and sons for that matter) how to cook kale and asparagus and squash. Teach them how to cook all of the healthful, nutritious foods. And if you don't know how, then discover how to together.
DO teach her that running is a great sport that can help her feel less stressed. That swimming, and soccer, and rowing, and fencing, and tennis are all great sports because they teach her how to be a part of a team and how to be a leader. That triathlon is a fantastic sport that teaches how to conquer negative thoughts, like self-doubt.
DO teach our daughters (and sons) that they can do anything they put their mind to. That hard work and persistence are the keys to success.
DO teach our daughters that she doesn't need a man to kill a bug, lift a cabinet, or fix the toilet. Teach her this through example. In doing so we will also be teaching our sons that their future brides are strong, confident and capable women.
DO compliment her on things not related to her body or the way she looks. Like her kindness to others, her compassion, her ability to empathize, her strength, her persistence, her hard work, her confidence, her integrity, her energy, her patience, innovation, focus, authenticity, open-mindedness . . .
DO teach her how to love herself.
Remind yourself and teach your daughters that our bodies are homes to our greater selves — our soul, spirit, energy. And that the radiance of your soul is limited to the health of it's dwelling.