No matter how much I modeled and taught her about radically accepting herself and her body, I knew that the misogynist, ableist and fatphobic conditioning around our bodies would seep its way into her young brain.
Last night we were reading a book about her changing body and what to expect. It was a great jumping off point to open up a safe space for her to ask questions and to have open and vulnerable talks with me.
She was looking through the book and I patiently waited to see what was going to come up for her.
She looked at me with her big green eyes and I could hear the vulnerability in her voice as she asked, “Mommy, is it normal to not like parts of your body?”.
I was dreading and hoping she would never ask this question.
But at the same time I’m a realist and I know the world we live in. I work with clients every day who, after decades of hating parts of their body, are starting to realize that they no longer want to live like this. I knew my daughter was going to be impacted by the society and culture we live in.
One that tells us that thin is better. That fat is bad. That how a girl looks is equal to her value. That we must look like what society deems as beautiful in order to feel worthy.
But I kept calm, I took a breath and thanked the years of work, coaching and research I’ve done around body image.
I told her that yes, it can be normal to be frustrated with parts of our body.
I can be frustrated that certain foods trigger my acid reflux, that my back and neck can hurt easily and that I pee when I run. I told her that some people who can’t see, hear or walk could be frustrated by that. That some people have sensitive skin and wearing certain fabrics can be distracting. That some people are born into a body that doesn’t line up with the gender they identify with.
I also told her that I used to not like a part of my body and how it looked, but that I made a decision to not let how my body looks impact how I feel about my body.
I shared that I was born with a visible dark big birthmark on my leg and that I used to spend so much time and energy on hiding it cause I felt ashamed about it.
But one day I realized how much negative energy I was spending on something that I couldn’t control and really had no impact on my life. Instead, I decided to completely embrace it. And how that helped me to feel so much better about myself and my body.
Yes, unfortunately it’s been normalized to not like parts of our body, but how our body looks should not impact how we feel about ourselves. Our body does SO many amazing things for us.
I reminded her that her body supports her while she dances hip hop, plays basketball and softball. It allows her to wrestle with her papa and play outside with her friends.
I wanted her to focus on what her body DOES for her. No matter her ability.
I then asked her if there was a part of her body that she didn’t like.
Her answer was “I think I’m chubby”.
To hear this statement come out of my 10 year old broke my heart. Not because I thought that chubby is bad…but that she thought being chubby was something not to like about a body, whether she was chubby or not.
I know these were not her words. Not her thoughts or feelings. She was not born thinking “chubby” or fat was bad. She definitely did not hear this from me.
But this was taught to her. Modeled to her by others. Family members, the media, the diet industry, the fitness industry, the beauty industry, social media, etc….
Now you might think that my response was to quickly jump in to reassure her that she wasn’t chubby. That was our conditioning right?
If someone said “Ugh, I’m fat”, we would jump in and reassure them by saying “you’re not fat! You’re beautiful!” Cause we all thought that being fat was bad and that we need to reassure that person that they are not fat, ie: “bad”.
But I did not do that. Because that would have been reinforcing the idea that I believed that being chubby was bad. It also does not matter WHAT I THINK about her body. It only matters what she thinks and feels.
So I asked her, “do you think being chubby is bad?”
She answered “no”.
So then I asked her why she felt bad about her body if she thought it was chubby. Her 10 year old brain didn’t have an answer for me.
I reminded her that having a “chubby” body is not shameful or anything to feel bad about. All bodies are diverse in their ability, shape and size and they are all beautiful, unique and deserve to be cherished.
Did she hear me, truly hear me?
I’m not sure. But I will continue to be her model. To be the one who fights tooth and nail to out-voice the ones that are constantly telling her to shrink her body. That sells her on the idea that she has to look a certain way to feel validated or worthy.
I don’t want another generation to succumb to the unattainable and oppressive beauty standards in our society.
I want my daughter to radically embrace ALL of her.
How her body will change over the years and in different seasons of her life. I want her to love the laugh lines on her face. To get in the picture and create memories. I want her to express herself through her clothes, makeup, and hair in a way that is free from the opinion of others. That she gets to do what feels pleasurable and authentic to herself.
How would your life be different if you received THESE types of messages at a young age?
It’s not too late to make the change now. To start to reject the beauty standards and fatphobia that’s holding you back from radically embracing all the parts of you.
It might be hard. It might be an everyday battle. Even though it may go against the grain and cause friction in your life.
I hope you know that YOU are worth the fight. You are worth the effort and love.
So tell that younger version of yourself that you have a GOOD body, one that does amazing things for you.
Give your body the compassion and kindness it deserves.