The Karate Kid, Mini-dresses and Body Image

A couple of weeks ago Juniper earned a yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do. She's been really into karate lately - in being strong and capable. She likes to pretend to be the hero and "saves" little Wyatt (and/or the dogs) from all sorts of harrowing situations. So yesterday, while we sat around waiting for the roast to roast, we found ourselves on our worn-in, buttercream leather couch watching The Karate Kid.

Though I was prepared to fast-forward through the many inappropriate-for-a-five-year-old-scenes and ready for the conversation about violence and how her Tae Kwon Do skills should never be used to hurt people, I was not prepared for what she said to me upon my return from the kitchen (checking on the roast) during a commercial break.

I walked into the room, caught the end of a Bowflex commercial, looked at my daughter who was watching me watch the end of the aforementioned Bowflex commerical, and heard her say the weirdest (and probably most frightening) sentence I've ever heard her say.

"Mama? You should buy that so you can lose a few pounds so you can wear a mini dress too!"

My brain went into shock mode. Luckily, I have a pretty healthy self body image nowadays. Had this happened a few years ago, when things were very different, I may not have been able to have the very vulnerable, but safe and un-shaming, un-guilting conversation to uncover what she meant.

Because of my own negative experiences with body image and self-objectification I have vowed to help cultivate a healthy body image for my daughter. I've always been extremely careful with the way I've talked about beauty, our bodies and health with my daughter. I have never talked about fatness or weight with my daughter. I choose never to judge another person based on their looks (whether in front of my daughter or not). I have never, in my daughter's presence, looked into a mirror and shown or talked about disdain for what I see looking back at me. In fact my daughter didn't even know the word "fat" until she she was four (when she learned it from a school friend).

My point in not deliberately teaching my daughter the word "fat" was to focus attention on being healthy instead - being capable of running and playing and going on adventures. Now that she knows the word "fat", I'm teaching her the implications of using that word and the intricacies of using that word appropriately.

But I digress.

"What do you mean, Juni? What does "losing a few pounds" mean? I asked.

[blank stare]

Lose a few pounds of what?" I asked.

"Of weight." she says with a shy grin.

"But what does weight mean?"

And that's when she goes on to repeat word-for-word what the commercial said about losing 50 pounds or 40 pounds or whatever pounds they mentioned. And that's when I realized she had no idea what she was talking about - she was trying to make all the connections, and feeling out how I responded (which she would adopt as her own reaction). And I realized that the only reason she said that to me was because she saw the cute girl on a swing, with a pretty flowery dress, that mentioned she could wear a mini-dress now (and my daughter is obsessed with dressing up and wearing dresses!)

So I mention to her that I don't need to lose any weight to wear a mini-dress. I can wear a mini-dress whenever I feel like wearing a mini-dress.

And then we both went and changed into short, twirly dresses. And danced around the living room to Joe Esposito's You're the Best Around, while Danny LaRuso kicked ass.

And then we fell over dizzy. I'll never be sure what my daughter's brain made of the connections that were created during that conversation. But I can only hope that it crafted the message that we ARE the best around, just the way we are.


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