What are you Teaching your Daughter about Loving Her Body?
We’re constantly bombarded with messages implying we need to look a certain way to be happy, or that our value comes from our appearance. That’s major bologna.
Many experiences lead to this post. Sweet experiences, moments of enlightenment, frustration, fear, and gratitude all lead to this.
I’m starting this out by not apologizing. I’m not apologizing for not “eating perfectly”, for not looking like a Victoria’s Secret model (here’s why), for not endlessly “motivating” you with 10,000 reasons you’d suck if you didn’t workout your hardest today, for not telling you that you have to be thin & fit to be loved. I won’t, because, guess what? None of that makes you amazing. You, being yourself makes you amazing. Your attitude, your spark, your compassion, your individual skills and personality make you amazing. Not the fact that you’ve been sugar free for 30 days or 3 years, or that you just owned that treadmill. I mean that’s all cool, but doesn’t make or define YOU.
I am very interested in the topics of body image & body satisfaction because it’s important. So interested, in fact that my graduate thesis was on body image and exercise. I meet with so many clients who don’t think much of themselves, who are dissatisfied with their bodies, and can’t quite make healthy behavior changes. Obviously there are so many reasons why behavior change is hard, but does one’s self-perception contribute to that? Absolutely.
I feel particularly implored to share this after an experience I had last year. I perform BodPod tests to determine people’s body composition (fat percentage) at work. The youngest person I’d tested before this particular point was a 17 year old athlete who wanted to be more competitive in their sport. I get that, that’s fine. But this day I was to test 10 and 12-year old sisters with their parents. Gulp. This family was one of the most gracious and lovely families I’ve ever seen, in all aspects of those words. They were kind, fun to talk to, and just a great family. I don’t share this to demean them or to indicate confusion as to what happens next, but to say that they are great people, all of them! One major reason I’d never tested someone younger than 17 at this point was that little-no research has been done to determine safe or healthy body fat %ages for kids, we just have those numbers for adults. Children go through growing stages, they grow tall, they grow out, then they grow tall again. With these changes in growth and all the changes associated with puberty, categorizing kids’ % fat is not helpful to determine their healthiness. Even more so, children mature at different rates, so many girls in particular may feel insecure because they may not look like their friends or other girls their age because they have matured more or less physically. Comparing whichever stage they’re in to adult % fat numbers tells you nothing. It’s like comparing the height of a child to the height of an adult. It doesn’t tell you much and these arbitrary numbers could very well be detrimental to their self-esteem.
Back to this experience and why it was so uncomfortable. This lovely mother asked me to explain to her young daughters why it was so important to know you body fat percentages. Gulp. Inside, I was screaming “for you girls, it’s not! It’s not important for you at all!” I honestly don’t remember what I said. I think I talked to the girls while leading them back to our testing station, away from their mom.
These two tests turned out just as I’d expected. Their young bodies were categorized as having excess fat when compared to adult bodies. Even with a tender explanation, seeing that number and seeing where it fit probably resonated more with them than my scientific and reasonable explanation. My heart broke for these cute young girls, and for their parents. Their mom had the best intentions, it was so apparent how much she loved her children. But my ideas and her ideas about self worth and image were about as far away from each other on a spectrum. I was trying to make up with thoughtful and genuine words for the in-genuine things I was doing.
As adult women, we generally act as role models for the young girls around us. Whether they be our daughters, nieces, family friends, students, or acquaintances what we say about our bodies and how we treat our bodies resonates with them. It scares me, but is also empowering to be able to teach young girls through actions. Our comments about our own bodies, our “man shoulders”, our bellies… Or our comments about the features of others’ bodies both demeaning and coveting… They stick. I mean eight year old girls diet, like a lot of them, they go on diets to lose weight. 8 year old girls. Remember we act as role models for these young girls who don’t know much other than what they see in the media and right in front of them.
Besides, even if we don’t, the way we treat our bodies or even just think about them affects our health & well-being. Although we can’t be perfect at always loving our bodies, even I have body envy and moments of hating aspects of mine, my body allows me to do so many awesome things and I am truly grateful for this body I have. At times I find myself comparing my body to someone who looks way more fit, or someone who is portrayed as being more fit on social media. I compare myself to that other girl (who is gorgeous AND charismatic) who is flirting with that guy I’ve been trying to muster up the confidence to talk to…. But lesbehonest, I’ll find a guy who compares all other girls to me, to myself, not to my body or to my keen sense of fashion. And if not, if a guy I’m so interested chooses someone over me because of her body, than cest les vie… Screw you dude, I’m too good for you anyway! Because I know better. But, in all reality, there will always be someone who has thinner thighs, a bigger bust, and more defined abs. But there will also be others who have less than that. But again, what does that matter? Do washboard abs make you a good person, do they make you smart and kind? Not that I’m aware of. And focusing too much on perfecting our bodies could take away time that we could be spending doing things to enrich our lives, where we could learn, serve, and be kind to others. Although I’m a fan of pushing ourselves to become faster and stronger, I think popular culture expects too much and for purely aesthetic reasons, which is not at all enriching.
On days when I am down on my body, I strive to push myself harder than needed, I focus on the small details, and overlook how I’m treating myself and how I’m treating others. On the other side, when I’m loving myself, I spend time in active activities I enjoy that promote health, I eat delicious and nourishing food, and I spend my time and thoughts on ways to learn, improve, and to make this world a better place. Now doesn’t that second view sound better, happier? Your body is amazing, even with all the imperfections, your body does incredible things and allows you to do incredible things. It is and you are worthy of treating yourself well, just like your favorite article of clothing, your amazing body will last longer and do better for you the nicer you treat yourself & your body.
You can take care of yourself and your body by:
- Eating nourishing foods
- Building your cardiovascular endurance and your muscles
- Reducing stress
- Do things you enjoy
- Love yourself and others
- Finding enjoyment in life
- Doing nice things for others
- Focusing on the positives
- Focus on what your body enables you to do, not how it looks doing it
I want young girls to grow up believing that their bodies are instruments, not ornaments as said by Lexie and Lindsay Kite, PhDs of Beauty Redefined. That we are all capable of more than just looking hot, also from the inspired Kite sisters. Who we are matters far more than what we are, or what we look like. We can spend so much time worrying or trying to change our shells that we don’t have the time to change what we are on the inside, the stuff that will get us through life and will last.
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