Way before celebrities like Lena Dunham and Jennifer Lawrence were extolling the virtues of body positivity, we sucked it up and dieted. And way before these same actresses bucked the patriarchy by rejecting the trend of systematic societal body shaming, promulgation of an unattainable body ideal, and tying our lovability and/or self-worth to our size, we just sucked it up and dieted and exercised ferociously.
While some of these societal vestiges remain, women and girls, boys and men are becoming wise to the wily ways of societal body ideals, and many are working hard in the counterculture to do something about it so that future generations of girls learn to actually love and accept their bodies at any shape: When we’re pregnant and when we’re postpartum. When we fit in the jeans and when we don’t fit in them. When we’re young and nubile and when we’re old and wrinkly. For being body positive is to embrace diversity — not only in other people, but in ourselves! It’s just a fact that some people’s weight fluctuates. Heck, mine fluctuated just in the two weeks between Christmas and New Years!
However, unlike when you get a new haircut or adopt a new wardrobe, which seems to warrant accolades and praise, change in our bodies or weight is often the ultimate no-no.
Our girls are watching, and we have an opportunity to change how they see themselves and what they consider acceptable and unacceptable in themselves. Let the four lessons below serve as a jumping-off point for all of us to learn a little more unconditional love for ourselves and our ever-changing bodies, and to have girls enter adulthood with a keen understanding of their self-worth beyond their size or appearance. For history is doomed to repeat itself when we simply accept the status quo.
1. The best way for our daughters to have a healthy and positive relationship with food is to strive to have one ourselves.
We need to work hard day in and day out to realign ourselves away from the obsessive dieting culture to one of balance and sustainability. Our kids are acutely observant and aware of what they see their moms eat (or not eat). And even though they cannot now intellectually process it, it will stay with them as they grow into adults. Try going on a dieting hiatus, not discussing your own opinions of your appearance, and stop weighing yourself for a month. See what comes out of that.
2. Make physical activity for our daughters about how they love to move their bodies, not to conform to the standards the gym teacher at school or anyone else decided is correct.
I remember having to run a mile in gym class at school, not being able to do it, and feeling like an utter failure because of it. I didn’t realize my inner athlete resided in swimming, tennis, and, much later, kettlebells and yoga, because I was taught at a young age that running and group sports were paramount to the idea of being an athlete or being fit.
3. Emphasize that food is morally neutral.
You (and they) are not “good” if they eat salad and bad if they eat cookies. Food is fuel, and we need to teach our daughters that certain foods make us feel energetic and healthy, and others may hinder those efforts. Let them know we are lucky because we are a species that can actually find pleasure in eating and our food choices, and we can savor and relish in different flavors. We can enjoy those special treats occasionally, even if they’re not the healthiest, because part of the human experience is to create memories around birthdays and holidays, which food is a big part of (even the less healthy ones).
4. If you notice your daughter trash-talking herself, use it as a teachable moment.
Ask her where she got that notion and why she feels that way. Take the time to explain body diversity. If she specifies a body part that she does not like, explain to he the beauty of what that body part is intended for. How it functions to serve her in some really amazing ways. Show her body-positive magazines, websites, and sources of media.
We are on the precipice of change. But it’s up to all parents to decide that it’s time to view our own relationship to our bodies in a different way than we have ever thought before. We must learn to regard our bodies and the ones of our children from a place of compassion, admiration, and awe — for they house the most amazing souls inside that simply won’t shine to their fullest capacity until we can accept, love, and even be proud of the exterior.