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.
Further, a huge part of thinking about our own bodies and communicating about them to our children is acknowledging that we are 3 part beings – physical, spiritual, and emotional. The physical isn’t just there to serve the (superior) intellectual. They are beautifully, wonderfully, mysteriously interwoven.
This may not seem like that big of a deal, but I actually think that as we continue to welcome digital media into our lives, an emphasis on the physical becomes extremely important. When our identity is partially made up of profiles, filtered pictures, and yes, blog posts, taking time to remember the impact and value of physical presence is key. I’m not saying the interwebs is bad, but I am saying that it can take work to keep one foot in the real world. You can’t value physical presence in general with out acknowledging one’s physical presence individually. So, we’ll talk about this, and though we often fail (because Instagram!), we’ll try to model it.
3. What about beauty?
When we emphasize function over form, we allow little room beauty, don’t we? Our hearts sing when we see/hear/feel something beautiful. Their creator build that in and no matter what we believe, we feel it.
Beauty isn’t the only thing, but it is an important thing. It is valuable. We love beautiful things, and we want to celebrate when our kids recognize beauty in the world around them. I don’t want to suggest to my kids that they’re excluded from that by ignoring their looks. It is okay to want to feel physically beautiful. While that need should be tempered by the knowledge that beauty is more than just the physical, we don’t need to shut that part down completely. So, rather that suggesting that my kids put a lid on their desire to be beautiful, I want communicate that their bodies, their spirits, their minds – they are full of beauty. Actual, physical beauty and the intangible beauty of the intellectual, emotional and spiritual.
So. Why take the time to think through this? Because it’s so real to me. So much a part of my now, and my future. And because I think the conversation is worth continuing.
At the end of the day (or days, rather), we aren’t living a parental formula. We can’t guarantee that our children won’t struggle with body image or a plethora of other issues even with the right thoughts and wording. So when it comes to specific issues like talking to them about body image, I want to be sure to tell them the whole truth. To put it in context and help them plug this issue into the bigger story of their full personhood, their full identity, and to the fullness of their beauty.
What did you think when you read the original HuffPost piece? How has what’s been communicated to you about your body influenced what you communicate to children about theirs? Any additions or deletions?