Talking to Daughers About Their Bodies: A Response of Sorts

I don’t generally address posts that have gone viral or news stories meant to make a stir, like the “Are You Mom Enough” cover of Time from a few years back. It’s just not my style.

But last week and friend sent me the link to a post called “How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body.” I love that she sent it to me. There’s a lot of really empowering stuff in there, a lot that I do want to model for my kids. Less talk about not eating carbs, and more consistent cooking of healthy meals, and overall well-being and so on.

I read the post and moved on, but it kept creeping back into my thoughts. (And also showing up on Facebook.) While I appreciate a lot about the tone of the piece, we do intend to approach things differently with our kids. Here’s what I’m thinking.

1. Most women DO struggle with body image in some shape or form. Instead of trying to create a body image bubble around my daughters, I want to engage them there.

I firmly believe that as parents, we are the loudest voices in the lives of our children, and we need to take this very seriously. This is one of the most beautiful functions of family (which, on the flip-side makes its abuse deeply hurtful). I realize that part of what the original post is getting at is the carelessness under which we sometimes operate, forgetting that when we breathe out “my body isn’t acceptable,” our children breathe that in. So yes, let’s be thoughtful, careful, and intentional about what we say about our own bodies. (And let’s not let that just be a front for our kids, let’s make sure we really are addressing body image issues we have.)

The problem is that we are not the only voices in our children’s lives. Someone will talk to them about negative body image. Remember that scene in Mean Girls, where Katy is at Regina George’s house and all three original Plastics stand in front of the mirror complaining about their bodies on cue? They turn, in unison, to look at Katy, who grew up in the plains of Africa with her anthropologist parents, and with a confused look she says, “I, uh, have really bad breath in the morning…”

I REALLY want Liv and Eliza to be that stunned when they hear another person make an unnecessary complaint about his or her own physique. I would love it if the only response my girls can come up with in those moments could be something as hilarious as temporary halitosis. But it won’t be, even if I never utter a word about my body or theirs. So I intend to talk to them about it, to discuss how they feel about their bodies (in addition to how they work). How can they combat negative thoughts about their bodies? How can they focus on overall wellness? From a Christian perspective, what is the Truth about their whole being? These are the things I expect to talk through with my kids as they get older.

2. In our bodies, we can celebrate form and function combined. And then some.

At first glance, there’s a lot to love about the last section, which reads:

Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs.

She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants. Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.

Yes! I want my kids to breathe deeply and be proud of what their bodies are capable of. I want to model this for them. I want them to find their thing, and go with it. If appropriate, I want to do it with them. (Fingers-crossed on the mother-daughter jazz duet of my dreams!)

I want my kids to move beyond being frustrated with thick thighs or a wide ribcage to being proud of what their bodies can do. Absolutely. But along the way, ribs needn’t be reduced to packaging for the lungs and bodies are more than just soul-carriers. I want to help my daughters address the parts of their bodies they may not be satisfied with. Why does this bother you? How does that fit into the big picture of who you are? That color really brings out your eyes, by the way. I love that you have your dad’s eyes. The goal there is the realization that the body is a blend of form and function, and both can be celebrated.

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