I’m a mom, like many of you. Or maybe you’d a Dad. Or an Aunt or Uncle. Maybe a grandparent. Or…maybe you don’t know any children, as odd as that would be. No matter who you are, though, this could be a good read for you. It’s a post about talking to our kids about our physical bodies, especially our daughters. That’s not a new thought, I know, but these thoughts are new to me – maybe again – sometimes I have to realize something a few times. Slow learner, I guess. Therefore, I want to share them with you. See how helpful I am?
I’m not sure how closely you pay attention to this topic, so let me give you a quick back story of what I’m talking about and where I’m coming from. As a child I was told I was fat. I was picked on for my weight. I was put on diets over and over again. In fifth grade I was gifted a book about improving my metabolism from that of an elephant to that of a mouse (probably a thin mouse). I was told that I shouldn’t gain too much muscle, during the years when I was active in two or three sports a year, because it would just turn to fat…and I didn’t need more of that. A boyfriend once told me that I could stand to lose a few pounds. And I won’t even get into the effects of being raped and how that impacted my feelings of worthlessness, which were often tied up in my weight. That’s where I started.
At some point I started fighting back. I wanted to love myself. I wanted to feel good about the skin I was in. I wanted my curves to be something I could feel sexy in or be proud of, not always something I was ashamed of and wanted to hide. I worked hard in several different ways to change the way I looked at me. Eventually it worked and, “I am an occasionally confident, mostly comfortable woman,” as I honestly state in my bio. Kudos for me, right? What’s the point?
For the purposes of this post, the point is that I’ve been there. I’ve struggled. I look at others and see them struggling too and want to hug them and shake them and tell them they’re great…exactly how they are, as exactly who they are. I feel, though, that my shouts would be muted by the “you’re not good enough” messages that abound in the world. So, I often just smile a knowing smile and think really hard at people.
“You’re more than your waistline.”
“I love you for you.”
“Don’t let the world tell you how to feel.”
And I write sometimes, hoping my message of self-love reaches someone that needs to read it. Maybe that’s you. And maybe that’s because you have a child in your life that needs to reap the benefits of you feeling good, not only about you, but about them too!
As I reached adulthood, got married, had kids, I started wondering how I’d cultivate a positive body imagine in my children. What could I do to keep them as far from the self-hating hell I’d gone through as possible? Then, I started seeing this idea of not talking to your children about their bodies. Just keep the focus off how much they eat or weigh or what size they wear and they’ll grow up to be well-adjusted lovers of themselves!
It sounded great! It seemed like not only would my kids become adults who appreciated all body types, including their own, but I was off the hook a little. I didn’t have to deal with any demons that might be flitting around still. Suh-weet!
What could happen when we don’t talk to our kids? I’ll tell you this much…someone else is. Always. There’s always someone talking.
In case you’re not familiar, most women and girls are unhappy with their bodies. Weight and jean size get a lot of attention, but it could be anything, really. I know a woman who hated her nose and was considering plastic surgery to “fix it.” To me, her nose was perfect for her. It fit her, helped her have a family resemblance, and was the one she was born with, after all. But she’s not the first and won’t be the last to pick a detail about her physical appearance that she’s unhappy with. Bodily dissatisfaction is a big deal. Just ask that cosmetic surgery field and the diet industry and anyone really. Big deal.
A big deal, perhaps, that can lead to bigger deals. But…let’s not rush things. First, I want to touch on the “if we’re not talking, someone else always is” part of this post. I have thin hair. I always have. My mother and grandmother wore wigs to help cover their thinness. I don’t know about Grandma, but I do know that my mom also tried various creams and shampoos and she probably prayed about it too. I grew up amidst this. My mom started having my hair permed in fourth grade as a remedy to my thinness. I definitely got picked on more for looking like a puppy (the curls down the side of my face apparently looked like ears to some of the less pleasant children I encountered) than I ever did for having thin hair.
In fact, I can’t tell you why, but having thin hair never really bothered me. I was a little jealous of my sister when she was born with incredibly thick hair, but I didn’t cut hers off in a rage or anything. I just wondered about genetic cards and how randomly they’re dealt. So, my thin hair, although something my mom wanted to fix, wasn’t a big deal for me. Fast forward to adulthood…no one had talked to me about my lack of hair on the top of my head for quite some time when three different people over the span of a few months decided too.
The first anxiously handed me a paper with a website on it for a supplement that would surely help with my hair loss at a post office. My daughter was with me and after she woman left she asked, “What was wrong with her?” I don’t know exactly, but she was pretty adamant that I had a problem, even though I didn’t think I did. The second person offered his help as a practitioner of Chinese medicine. He claimed that I had kidney problems that had likely lead to my hair loss. I assured him, as I did the post office lady, that there wasn’t hair loss, I’d simply always had thin hair. He gave me his business card and remained skeptical in light of my presumed denial of a serious health issue.
Now, I have to tell you that I have wondered about the health of my kidneys from time to time since that conversation, but not enough to be checked for anything because I don’t have any other symptoms and technically don’t have the symptom of hair loss either. But someone talked and it put the thought in my head.
The next stranger (I want to emphasize that I knew none of these folks) asked if I’d had cancer. It was completely out of the blue. I wasn’t sure why he’d ask it, unless maybe he just wanted someone to identify with him if he was going through something. I guess it was kind of like that. When I told him no, and obviously looked confused, he explained, “Oh, well, I just thought maybe with your hair…when I went through chemo I lost my hair too.” For the love…No, I haven’t had cancer. I haven’t gone through chemo. I don’t have a kidney problem. I don’t take supplements for hair growth. And yet, all these people felt the need to talk to something physical about me as though it were a problem and needed to be fixed. For a second I heard clearly that I needed to change.
So…people were talking to me when I wasn’t expecting it. Thankfully it was about a subject that didn’t much bother me. But, even so, they were able to get into my head a little. So, just imagine if the topic people are choosing to speak about is something that bothers us already…the results will likely be more devastating and take longer to bounce back from.
This brings us to my baby girl. She’s not so much a baby now, but any parent knows our kids are always our babies, no matter how old they get. And it brings me to your baby girls too. Like I said, maybe you’re a parent or a teacher or a coach or anyone who knows a girl who looks in the mirror and sees something less that beautiful, something less than worthy. And that’s the majority of girls.
Or maybe you’ve got sons, teach boys, or know boys…you’re not off the hook. Body image issues have been on the rise for boys too.
So, you know some youths…let me remind you that just because you’re not talking, you’re not focusing on their bodies or your body, doesn’t mean they aren’t. Why? Because even though you’re not talking to them…someone is. Lot’s of someones.
I wrote about my frustrations about January, but didn’t even consider how that might effect our kids. Well, I did consider it, actually, but quickly dismissed it. I figured it bothered me so much because of my history with body image. I failed to think about my daughter’s introduction to hurtful comments about her body. I thought I’d handled that and her self image was that of a confident pre-teen now. But is it? I might not really know if I don’t ask, if we don’t talk about it. I also didn’t think about my youngest, a boy, who gets called all sorts of names – meant in a teasing, fun way – things like shrimp, runt, little guy. Most of the time he takes them in good fun. Sometimes, though, he gets really frustrated. Maybe his body image is suffering for someone else’s laugh. I didn’t think about my oldest, who talked about nothing but supplementation for several months to help him “get buff.” He’s not talking about it anymore, but is that desire still there? What lengths might he go to for the body he thinks he should have?
As much as I’d like to be off the hook and not talk to my daughter or my sons about body image, as mush as I’d like to believe that well-adjusted adults will *poof* magically grow out of kids who are raised by parents who don’t focus on body and who feel good about themselves, it’s just not that simple.
Nothing ever is.
My children may or may not see that I’m content with my body. But, what they also see is that the Juniors section of the store has shorts the length of “denim underwear.” They see commercials for drugs and surgeries and whatever other remedies we can think up to solve our body problems. Heck, at the dentist yesterday the flyer that smiled back at us wanted us to be more confident in our smiles…by changing them of course. Why can’t we just be confident in the smiles we have right now? They see and hear and read that no matter what they are – tall, strong, short, skinny, curvy, lean – no matter what, they should probably change.
So, I can’t not talk anymore. I’m gonna change my strategy and step back into the ring. It’s not just because my 14-year-old was told he’s on his way to obesity because he’s 40 pounds overweight on that damned chart, but that’s part of it and perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back. If you know him, I know your jaw just dropped. If you don’t, let me tell you, he’s perfectly healthy and so happy and confident I find myself having to knock his ego down every other day or so. He’s fine. And for anyone to tell him differently, to even put that thought in his head…it’s no good. It doesn’t sit well with me.
It’s not me that needs to stop talking to my kids about their bodies – it’s everybody else. Period. So, listen up kiddos, Mama’s got something to say…