It’s happening. The thing I feared the most as a girl’s mom has reared its ugly head: body image issues.
Since the day I found out I was having a girl, I have worried about passing down a positive body image or at least not passing down my negative one. All growing up, I was the girl who was bigger than all my friends. I was never fat, but I was tall and broad with a chest that looked fake before fake was the acceptable size. It was not easy and my battles with my curves have been frequent and long.
I swore as a mom I’d get my stuff together in time to give my girl the best chance at never going through what I did. And I did. I purposely changed the way I talk to myself. I made exercise a priority. I radically altered my diet by continuing to embrace my love of food but making different choices about what to cook and eat. I even became a Holistic Health Coach, who often works with tween and teen girls. Talk about walking the walk.
We don’t measure calories or restrict foods in our house. We try to eat well and foster a sense that food is nourishing and mealtime is fun. But we still have cookies and indulge in ice cream on hot summer days. We want our kids, boys and girls, to respect their bodies because of what they can do, not how they look. I am realistic in knowing that we’re fighting more than just our house when it comes to this issue, but I figured it we could get it right here, that’s more than half the battle.
The result of this effort, or so I thought, was this confident, quirky young lady with an outstanding personality, a unique sense of style and unstoppable confidence. She has her father’s long skinny legs, her aunt’s perfect rear and a beguiling combination of both her grandmothers’ big round and light eyes. She’s gorgeous and not even remotely fat. She’s got my broad shoulders and (I fear) might even have my chest, but it didn’t seem to matter to her.
She used to be in love with her life as only little girls can be. She never noticed she was the biggest girl in ballet class, her sweet baby belly pushing on her pink tutu. It never occurred to her that her size would prohibit even the skinniest of arts. She could be found checking herself out in the mirror, pleased with what she saw and she was never afraid to throw her hat in the ring for anything.
Then this summer came and I caught her pulling on her skin above her waistline, trying to smooth down imaginary folds. Or I’d catch her in her room, whispering about clothes from last year that didn’t fit as if somehow she caused the shorts to be snug. She has fixated on pictures of her stomach and cried to me about how “bad” she looks in them.
What now? Am I failing at communicating the way I set out or is this now beyond control? Is society and fashion really so powerful that it can undo all the messages sent from home?
I can’t believe that. I won’t believe that. I’ll continue to tell her she’s beautiful and smart and valuable no matter what her waistline. I’ll continue to teach her about nutrition and exercise because they are important to health, not size. I’ll love her through this and try to drown out the voices of the outside world and, even more frightening, the one that seems to be coming from inside her own head.
I just hope I can be louder than them all.