Friday, July 1, 2016

Body Image, Weight and Little Girls

Warning: This isn't so much an education post as it is a mommy revelation post. It is also probably more than you want or need to know about me. But these thoughts have been running through my head for awhile and once a post has formed I can't move on until I've written it.

~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  My bubbly four year old danced around her sister's bedroom to a song in her own head. It was morning, before school, and she was supposed to be getting ready. Instead, she was rocking out and decidedly NOT brushing her teeth.

Suddenly she stopped her dance moves and looked at me. "I have a big bottom," she said, matter-of-factly. "Not like yours."

I froze. Time stopped. Four? This is when this conversation starts? Now?

First of all, she doesn't have a big bottom. She's four. Have you ever seen a four year old with a big bottom? Is it possible? She's perfect. PERFECT!

Ever since she was born I made a conscious decision to not talk about my weight in front of her. It was hard, especially when I was trying to lose the pregnancy weight after my second child. But anytime any negative thought about my own body came into my head I swallowed it. (Funny thing, the more I didn't acknowledge these thoughts the less they came. I mean, I don't look in the mirror and think "My thighs rock!" but I don't look in the mirror and groan or see all the work I need to do. In just not verbalizing these thoughts my body became just a thing instead of NOT PERFECT.)

I even snapped at my brother one day when he made an off hand comment about his weight in front of my daughters. "We don't talk about weight in this house!" I haughtily announced, in one of my snottiest parenting moments. I was immediately embarrassed, as though I was one of those parents who announces they don't let their child eat any processed food or believes Melissa and Doug toys are too commercial.

In our house the scale is for celebrating how big and strong you are. (Actually my two year old thinks it is a step stool. She calls it mommy's stool. I'm not sure why she thinks I have a three inch stool in the closet, but I'm not going to correct her.)

Yet despite carefully laying the groundwork for protecting my child from negative body image thoughts, there was my four year old, examining her behind, comparing it to mine, and announcing hers was bigger.

Now, it should be noted that she didn't add any negative connotations to this observation. Perhaps, in her four year old mind she was noting that her behind was big and beautiful and mine was not. Maybe her preschool friends have taught her to appreciate her curves.

I muttered something about her being perfect and then changed the subject, but my heart was breaking. Why is a four year old talking about her body? All About the Bass is one of her favorite songs.

But what hit me the most was that she compared her body to mine. I suddenly did not just see my body as my own weight-struggle symbol. Instead it became what it represented to my daughters about what healthy weight.

I am one of those insanely lucky people who sheds pounds by breast feeding. It is ridiculous. It didn't come off overnight, but after a year I was down to my high school weight with both of my girls. Best diet ever. It honestly crossed my mind that maybe I should have another child to get off the five pounds I recently gained. Instead, I've mentally planned a diet and exercise routine to maintain this high school weight. The thoughts in my head tell me that I can't let myself get back up to where I was before pregnancy. That would be lazy and unfortunately, and...

And what? Why? Why is it so important that I weigh what I weighed when I was 17 and had little else to do but study, hang out with friends, and run 5-8 miles a day. Two kids, a masters degree, and a career later, I don't think I should still hang on to my 17 year old self. But isn't that what we all do? As women we want to freeze our bodies as though we haven't experienced our life. There isn't much I want to go back in time for, and you could not pay me enough to go back to high school. So why would I want my high school body?

My daughter's off-hand bottom comparison left me with a stark reality. If I want her to have a healthy body image I need to have a healthy body image. Even if I'm not talking about how much weight I need to lose she is going to be looking at me (at least until she becomes a tween and hates me) as an image of what it means to be a woman. Do I want her to think being a woman is staying thin? Can I be comfortable with gaining the 5-10 pounds that are going to come naturally as I get older, so that I can model what it means to be a woman who is comfortable with her body?

1 comment:

Jenny said...

The feelings this just caused me. Oh my. I feel like I could use a support group of other women to share our concerns, our frustrations, our strategies for how to handle the issue of body image as mothers of daughters (although mothers of sons should probably be just as cautious if we're going to improve things for our girls).

Thank you for sharing this.