How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.
Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.
If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:
“You look so healthy!” is a great one.
Or how about, “you’re looking so strong.”
“I can see how happy you are – you’re glowing.”
Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.
Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.
Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.
Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.
Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.
Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with.
Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture.
Teach your daughter how to cook kale.
Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.
Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.
Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. 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.
There’s not much I can add to that (except maybe to link you to this other post by the same author. I promise, I’m not link farming; I just happen to really agree with what she says.)
One thing that I find interesting is that I actually assumed the author was a thirty-something mother of daughter(s). Turns out, she’s less than a year older than I am. Go figure.
I’ve already written some about my issues with body image here; I want to avoid (excessive) beating of dead horses, but at the same time, I think it’s an topic worth addressing again.
I think the best way to share is through a conversation I had yesterday. A parent friend of mine posted on Facebook asking, “What do you feed your slim child to try to gain weight that he/she likes? Other than peanut butter, nuts, avocados. Ideas? (oh, to have that problem…)” This friend happens to have multiple children; I and a number of others (incorrectly) assumed her post was referring to her daughter who is in junior high school. Interestingly, rather than giving food suggestions, a great quantity of the replies came back saying to be careful walking down the road of weight management, warning of a) teaching bad habits and/or b) creating body image issues.
I messaged her the following,
So I don’t normally respond to statuses that end in question marks, but I sort of have strong opinions about that topic in particular…
My own experience is that doctors wanted me to gain weight off and on from the time I was about twelve until just before I graduated. And while running a lot probably wasn’t helping the (perceived) issue, at the same time I still never found my weight to be a real problem, since I ate relatively well and since I suspected I wasn’t actually done growing (at least horizontally) for most of that time. I half-heartedly tried the whole eat-more-peanut-butter thing, but my weight just kind of sat. They ended up getting frustrated and putting me on medication when I was 17-ish to make me gain weight, which succeeded in that I gained weight, but had other consequences that I feel like I’m still managing (mostly in relation to body image) which make me question whether all of their concern was really worth it. In a weird way, the doctor who convinced herself that because I was “underweight” I must have something wrong/an eating disorder ended up offhandedly inducing a body image issue that I’d never had before (ironically…recently when I went to the doctor for a sports injury thing, the PA told me my BMI was actually too high…).
I recognize that what doctors say about kids needing to make a certain BMI is a valid concern in regards to calcium absorption or in terms of whether someone has an eating disorder, but personally I feel like if someone is generally active/healthy and there’s not an imminent health risk or an eating disorder, the bigger issue should be eating well and not actively trying to gain/lose weight. In general, unless there’s an underlying digestive problem or whatever, the body will eventually figure itself out and land at a weight at which it’s happy, even if that does mean going through some gangly years (during which “happy” = a BMI that is lower than the growth curve). It seems like there’s too much genetic variation in terms of body type as well as development rate for the statistical “average” to be relevant for everyone at all times
But if you’re determined to try something, which in no way do I mean to say is a less-than-valid response, and adding more fats has already been done to no avail…maybe more high-protein foods? People use high protein diets to lose weight, but they also help add muscle, which weighs more than fat and makes doctors happy…
Basically, as everyone else seems to be mentioning…gaining a few pounds now may not be worth bad habits and/or body image issues in the future, even if those things do not necessarily follow.
I suppose a lot of what I wrote was under the assumption that the person in question is female… but even if s/he isn’t, guys can have issues with bad habits and/or body image as well, so I suppose it’s still relevant, just in a different way. But yeah, I didn’t mean to write that much… I sort of feel strongly that the issue gets overblown a lot though
So that’s my story. It’s funny, because I’ve never been that explicit with anyone about the issues I’ve had with body image. Okay, so I wasn’t that explicit, but it’s more direct than I’ve ever been before, and by more direct, I mean it’s probably the first time I’ve mentioned it directly. Odd for me, since I don’t even know this person that well.
I feel like I’m just starting to come to terms with the fact that I do indeed have a bit of an issue with body image. I’m also starting to realize that I’m not sure I’m ready to give it up, because I’m still holding out the hope that it will somehow help me lose weight. I recognize that this should be an illogical position to hold, particularly because during the eight months that I was in the best shape of my life, I wasn’t weirdly obsessed with my weight or figure. Granted, I watched my food intake, weight, and resting heart rate like a hawk then (I kept a food log, weighed myself daily, and slept wearing a heart rate monitor), which might sound like I was obsessed with my weight, but I was actually just obsessed with trying to run well. It was different than it is now. Then, it was purely results driven: I didn’t care what I looked like and I didn’t have urges to binge eat or not to eat at all. My diet was a little bit spartan (plain lentils with brown rice was one of my favorite lunches), but mostly I just ate when I was hungry, ran my workouts, and got in really good shape. (I did have a rule that I wouldn’t eat any sweets, but it wasn’t a hard rule to follow because I never craved sweets.)
Then I went through the aforementioned medication thing, and my obsession with running well turned into an obsession with losing weight because the weight was making me run poorly. That’s when things went south.
I remember trying to make myself throw up a couple of times, but it never worked because God blessed me with a freakishly strong gag reflex. (I’ve literally thrown up once in my entire life, and then only because I drank too much water at once. Five glasses, right after a big dinner, to be precise.) I never ate lunch second semester this past academic year, which I said was because I didn’t have time (I went straight from class to the lab three days a week; the other two days I had class through lunch hour) and because I wasn’t hungry. I suspect those may have been self-delusional lies. And lies that made other people impressed when I told them I only ate two meals a day. I’m pretty sure I was actually hungry (my breakfasts and dinners started getting noticeably larger over the course of the semester) and that I somehow thought that eating fewer meals a day, even though lunch is usually my smallest meal, would make help me lose weight. Guess what? I didn’t.
Honestly, I’ve been afraid of the scale for more than a year. The disappointment and frustration (and perhaps even guilt) I feel when I see a number higher than I want/expect simply shakes me too much. I try to rationalize, reminding myself that some of the weight I’ve gained is muscle, to which the little voice responds, “Yeah, but muscle weight can make you slow, too. Besides, you still have a Buddha belly.”
Which brings me back to the original post. When I was little (by little, I mean when I was perhaps 8 or 10), my mother had me do situps every night before bed because she didn’t want me to have a stomach that stuck out like Buddha’s. One time when I was taking swimming lessons, there was another girl in the class who still had quite a bit of baby fat. My mother said to me, “See, if you didn’t do all those crunches, you’d have a tummy like that.”
That comment mostly washed over me, but I remember it, so it must have had a little bit of an impact. I should add that I don’t blame my mother for my body image issues. They’re mine, not hers. You could say that to someone else and they probably wouldn’t think anything of it. It’s not her fault I find myself constantly comparing myself to other people–not to fashion models, but to runners. Ooh, so-and-so is 5’3″ and weighs 112, and this person is 5’2″ and weighs 103. I used to weigh that. I want to weigh that.
I also play the clothes game. See, how your clothes fit is a double-edged sword. Whether your jeans are getting tight is definitely a better indicator of your body fat content than is the scale, but as my pants or shirts get increasingly tight, I grow increasingly paranoid. And unfortunately for the worrier, wearing clothes is a cultural necessity. Another little bit of self-delusion: I say I wear running clothes all the time because they’re more comfortable and because it’s more convenient. Both of those things are true–but I also think it’s because it’s easier to ignore nagging squeezes and pinches when you’re wearing loose-fitting clothes with lots of elastic.
This is tighter. I must be heavier. Do I have a muffin top? Runners shouldn’t have muffin tops. My boobs stick out too much. Runners shouldn’t have boobs. Yes. I want less boobs. How many women would kill to say that?
Most people think I’m really healthy because they see me exercising a lot and eating a lot of kale and tofu at the cafeteria. I happen to enjoy all three of those things. What they don’t see is the obsession with my body. They didn’t see the nights I would consume an entire box of cereal at once. I’m not sure if it’s worse that I would crave the entire box of cereal or that really I would only be eating it because I felt like it, not because I was actually hungry. They can’t see the conflict between the drive to run fast, the desire to drop pounds, the obsession with having a better-looking (whatever that means) body.
I’m trying to judge my health more on how I feel than what the numbers or the mirror says. Did that run feel better or worse than last time I did it? Did I lift more reps or bigger weights than last time? The occasional Do these pants fit better than last time? sneaks in, but I feel like that’s a least a little more healthy than staring with one eye at the red numbers glaring up at me, while I glare back at my reflection in the mirror with the other.