Kids and Bodies
If you know our family, you probably know that our parenting style is not very restrictive. I don't try too hard to restrict much of anything because I know it just draws attention to that thing and makes it seem desirable. We're not super overboard about candy or cuss words or plastic, you get the point. But there are two things I care about keeping away from my kids. One is personal screen time. I don't mean watching tv shows or movies (especially good ones!) as a family. We are wide open to that. But ugh, I reject the small personal screens that draw kids in to their own little worlds and away from togetherness and quality activity. But that's a topic for another day.
The thing I least want my daughters to witness is negativity about body image. I don't allow weight talk around my kids. I would never make a disparaging comment about my body or any other body; in fact, I would only offer praise and positivity. At a glance, this might seem disingenuous, but it's totally not. All bodies are beautiful and have done great things. Human bodies are amazing. There is no one particular way we are "supposed" to look or feel, and I strongly oppose a society that gives kids and women in particular that idea. Even when it's "just about health," it's still not anyone else's business what a body looks like. When we denigrate our physical bodies, even playfully, we obviously make a strong impression on our kids. But the thing is, it's not even just about them. It's giving them the idea that human bodies, and particularly female bodies, are meant to be discussed, judged, and valued accordingly. Ours, theirs, and everybody else's. We all hate this dilemma, and yet it is perpetuated every day in our thoughts and words. I want to be constantly vigilant against that.
Normally I don't at all like to be didactic about parenting. I know parenting is an intensely personal experience for families, to navigate our children and ourselves healthily through this challenging and ultimately extremely superficial society. But in this area, I would openly beseech others to heed the call: do not talk about weight in front of children. Mothers and daughters especially, but I really only say that because it's the experience I'm most familiar with, and I know that in this area it's an extremely powerful relationship.
As a mother for eight years now, I have made a conscious effort to be only positive about myself and my body. I also make an effort to be natural and to normalize a womanly body. I will shower together with my girls and dress in front of them. It has taken effort for me to be casual and confident in this way; it doesn't come naturally for me. I was raised Mormon and extremely modest. But I can tell intuitively from the easy and casual way they act around me when I'm naked or half dressed, that it's good for them to see their momma like this. Just not batting an eye about my big bottom or my belly or acting weird, covering up my boobs or any part of me or acting like any inch of myself is shameful.
Likewise when I put on my spandex shorts to run on the treadmill, I don't act embarrassed or expectant in some special way. I am not a great runner; over the years I've built and lost and then rebuilt stamina. And they see it all and they know I like it when I run. Even when I sweat like a horse or pee my pants a little from running, I'm laughing about that. When my face is beet red and I'm out of breath. When they watch me on the treadmill I smile as big as I can and even dance and jive to the music in my ears. I want them to see that the reason I run is for fun and for a good mood. When I do yoga I invite them to join me. They climb on my "wobbly tabletop" and we make a game of it. Doing yoga alone is more productive, of course, but when they're around I want it to be fun.
They have also witnessed my growth with my gray hair journey. They know that once I dyed it when Polly was two, and then I decided not to ever again. They think it's pretty. I talk openly about what it means to be 44 years old, to feel young inside, and to have gray hair in our society. I am grateful that the overall vibe on graying seems to be shifting, but still, most women my age I know do dye their hair or despair openly over a gray or two. When a little boy in Lucy's class told me his mom hates gray hair, I told him I like it. I searched my soul to find out how honest that was. I think it actually was true. Silver is sparkly, beautiful and unique, when you view it without any cultural associations and try to separate yourself from societal expectations or norms. The girls know that I am proud to be growing old and affectionate toward my silver hair. I also like my wrinkles, body hair, and the twinkle in my eye.
I remember many years ago, my friend Sadie posted something about her own butt in a picture of her in a bathing suit on the beach. Something about "look at that cute booty!" I remember that it took my breath away. What a shock to hear a beautiful woman with a great body ADMIT that she looked cute. It was utterly refreshing. It also made me sad that this was my reaction, because it showed how rare that kind of confidence (or at least outward display of it) was. I hoped to be more open with my confidence. But I feel strange sharing anything vulnerably personal still to this day. Even this post!
When we were little, my dad would say how beautiful or cute we were but "not to get a big head about it." Both my sister and I have laughed about this ever since, exclaiming, "if he only knew how FAR we were from getting big heads!!!" In the place and time that we live, I think there's almost no such thing as over-confidence in a young girl. We are obliquely taught to question, doubt, and judge our physical selves since we are very young, which we can see even just looking at the attention we girls get. Attention for our looks in varied ways. Again, I am not a stickler about not mentioning looks at all, we are physical beings and it's natural to notice physical traits. But I try not to focus too much on my kids' looks. I mostly talk to them about their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and dreams. Not their hair, skin tone, or god forbid, body shapes.
My young college students write often about the superficial world they encounter in social media. One that I had foolishly thought we were moving away from. The way they tell it, it's worse than ever, the despair it brings them, the hollowness it evokes. Maybe that's why most of my students seem hung up on working out and getting rich. I thought we were advancing philosophically beyond that, and I have hope as I also witness a strong level of critical thinking among students.
We have choices to make, and luckily, we know it.
By changing the way we think and talk in both inner and outer conversations about our wonderful physical selves, I hope that we all will usher in a society that is finally free of the degrading, objectifying, standard of judgment toward a woman's body. We have lived this way too long. I reject any social media or imagery that I feel furthers this hurtful situation, and I hope you will too.