In the last week, I’ve been told not once, not twice, but three times how fat I look and that it’s about time my baby arrives.
I’ve gotten used to the rude comments of people in the last 7 months or so, so it didn’t really affect me, but it got me thinking:
How can we raise girls in this body-shaming world without them knowing the humiliation and hurt that comes with having a normal body?
How can we make sure that the next generation doesn’t put so much value on their looks?
How can we raise them to feel confident around food instead of letting it be the enemy? And how can they feel comfortable in their skin no matter their shape or size?
I never knew what feeling good in my body felt like. I started my first diet when I was 9 years old and then quickly slipped into anorexia, an eating disorder that wouldn’t let me go for 14 years. I never ate intuitively or worked out because it was fun. It was always a struggle against myself.
Letting go of the thought that all my worthiness as a human being was dependent upon the number I saw on the scale in the morning was ridiculously hard. However, once I did, a whole new world opened up for me: a world of possibilities far beyond focusing on my ribcage or the thickness of my thighs.
Now, I don’t know if I’ll have a boy or a girl – it’s STILL a total surprise – but I know that if I have a girl, I want her to like her body the way it is. I want to spare her the torture of believing she needs to starve herself and mold her body in order to belong, feel worthy and be successful.
Yet, it’s not easy to do this, right? It’s not easy in this crazy, weight-obsessed world where girls are being bombarded with messages about their shortcomings and flaws every way they turn.
However, it also isn’t impossible. Here are my tips:
1. Educate but don’t dictate
I remember helping out at a friend’s son’s 4th birthday party a few years ago. As usual, there was cake and all the kids excitedly dug into it, except for one girl. One girl that told us that she doesn’t eat butter because it makes you fat. I was stunned and couldn’t believe it.
Since then, I’ve met many young girls telling me about carbs and protein at an age where I didn’t know any of these things existed.
I strongly believe that this form of “education” is more like “dictatorship”, even if the moms mean oh so well. These kids will grow up thinking about food as anything, but the fuel that lets them do what they want to do: dance, sing, hug, walk, talk. Instead, food will become a thing to be measured and looked closely at.
Instead of teaching your daughter about food groups, the “ideal” weight and which food groups should be eaten when and where, teach her to listen to her body, to figure out when she’s had enough and to love her body for what it enables her to do. Give her veggies without making a big deal about it and focus on health versus “cutting out food groups, fats, calories and more”.
Here’s a hint: young children don’t need any direction in that matter, they know exactly when they’ve had enough. And even if they do overdo it from time to time, it is normal and a very healthy way of living with food.
2. Be a role model
Children observe you closely – even your teenage daughter who pretends not to care. I remember how much my mom’s perception of her body influenced the way I saw my own. If my mom cares SO much about her weight at that age, how can I not care?, was the constant monologue in my head.
And despite my mom telling me over and over again that I was perfect the way I was, her actions about her own body spoke louder.
So, if you weigh yourself every morning, if you hop from one diet to the next, constantly complaining about your thighs, your butt or your muffin top, your daughter will too. It’s just the way it is. So, be a role model and work on your own body image – if not for your own sake, do it for your daughter’s sake.
3. Let her know she’s beautiful on the inside AND out
Tell your daughter she’s beautiful on the inside and out without making a big deal about her weight. Compliment her beautiful eyes but also her wicked sense of humor. Praise her sparkling eyes while she was performing her play but also her efforts in math. Be the encourager, not the critic.
4. Encourage her to move her body
Being physically active plays a big role in helping girls feel more self-confident and respect their bodies for what they enable them to do. I’m sure your daughter has a favorite sport, encourage her to pursue it or even offer to play basketball or dance with her every once in a while. Have fun with her and be sure not to make exercise a “duty” or a punishment. Movement can feel so great: feeling your body, your heartbeat, your pulse makes you feel alive and vibrant and yes, confident.
Eventually, your daughter will come home from school asking why her butt looks the way it looks, saying she’s fat and ugly or asking why the models in the magazines are so skinny. If this happens, you didn’t do anything wrong: it’s just the world we live in.
Don’t beat yourself up over it and instead talk with your daughter, tell her the truth about different body shapes and forms and the photoshopped models in magazines. Be open, honest and let her have her insecurities: it’s part of growing up.
Do you have tips on how to raise a confident daughter? I’d love to hear your thoughts.