Teaching My Girls About Body Image

Swimsuit season is coming up, and I’ve been thinking a lot about body image.

Two kids later, my body doesn’t look like it did when I was in my early 20s. Deep inside I have a core belief that this is fine and that I love my body. I am happy about the way I look. I love my stretch marks, and when my kids poke my squishy belly, I’m happy to tell them that’s where they grew.

But…

But there’s this tiny voice in the back of my head complaining about the lack of thigh gap and that squishy belly and the stretch marks and everything else. I know and I believe in my heart of hearts that the voice is a liar. But it’s still a struggle.

I want my girls to not feel that struggle. I don’t want my girls to have to remind themselves that the voice lies. I want them to laugh at the voice. Or better yet, not even hear it.

So there are a few steps that I’m taking that I hope will help.

I make a point to look in the mirror and say that I like my body. “I love my tiger stripes! They remind me of when you were in my belly!” or “I like my legs. I felt so strong today when we went on that bike ride.” I want them to know that it’s okay to look in the mirror and like what they see, and I also want them to take pride in what their body can do. So I set the example.

I don’t talk about weight or weight loss around them. The only time we talk about weight is in terms of them growing. “Look how much you grew!” And realistically, that doesn’t come up except at the doctor’s office or in the locker room of the gym after swim lessons and they beg to step on it because it’s neat and they want to see if they’ve grown. Now, admittedly, I am trying to trim up my figure a bit, but when I talk about that, I talk about it in terms of Mommy wanting to get stronger so I can keep up with them on their bikes and scooters.

With food, we talk about putting healthy food into our bodies, not restricting calories.

I never, ever criticize my body in front of them. I don’t want them to think it’s okay to talk to themselves like that.

I don’t know if this will help them, but I hope it will. I hope I’m inoculating them early against what they will see in magazines. I want my girls to grow up loving themselves just as much as I love them.

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Silly Mirror self image confindence

Being Kind to Ourselves for our Childrens’ Sakes

A few years ago, my husband and I went through a rough patch as many husbands and wives do.  We saw a marriage counselor, and one of the things he told us really stuck out to me:  We are often kinder to strangers than we are to our spouses.

I hadn’t thought about that in a while, but a few months ago, a mom on a breastfeeding board posted that she wanted to lose weight saying, “I feel like such a fatty.”

At that moment, our counselor’s words popped into my head and I realized something that he hadn’t said:  Not only are we kinder to strangers than we are to our spouses, but we are kinder to strangers than we are to ourselves.

The more I thought about it, the sadder I felt.  You would never call someone at the grocery store such an ugly name, but women say things like that to themselves all the time.  Horrible names like fatty, cow, bitch, ugly, and so forth.  When women say those things to themselves over and over, they must believe it.  How horrible that society tells us it’s okay to treat ourselves that way.  And Magazines feed this by promising miracle diets, exercises to get your body “swimsuit ready,” and photoshopped pictures of models with body shapes that most people will never have, flawless skin, flowing locks of hair, and clothing that reveals nary a bulge or a wrinkle.  We’re bombarded with this all day every day.

Then, this week at work, I realized that I was just as guilty as other women.  As I walked to the lunch room at the office to heat my leftover pork chop, I realized that I had forgotten my fork back at my desk.  I thought to myself:

“I’m such a dummy.”

And then I stopped dead in my tracks.

It was one of those moments where images and moments flicker into your mind in rapid fire succession.  Images of me right before our recent vacation trying on my swimsuit and rubbing the stretch marks on my belly and frowning.  Images of me calling myself stupid for forgetting to pre-heat the oven before roasting the previous night’s asparagus.  Images of me climbing out of the shower, turning around to look at my butt and saying, “Ugh.”

And in the background of all of those images are my daughters.  Watching.  Listening.  Learning.

I am teaching my girls that it’s okay to hate themselves.  I am teaching them to be kinder to strangers than to themselves.

That is not okay.

And in that moment in the hall at my office, I made a promise to myself:  Any time I caught myself calling myself an ugly name or saying something rude about myself, something I wouldn’t tolerate from a stranger, I will stop myself and remind myself that it’s not true.  I’m not dumb.  I’m not stupid.  I’m a person who sometimes makes mistakes.  I won’t tolerate someone calling my family members names, and I’m ready to stop tolerating that behavior from myself.

Yes.  I have stretch marks and the skin on my belly is loose.  Every single mark on my belly is a reminder of the victory I won over hyperemesis gravidarum.  That loose skin? It may be loose, but it’s special.  That’s where I held my two precious daughters.  My body will never be the same as it was before I had kids, but really, is anyone’s?  I’m finding myself being more and more okay with that as time passes.

I hope this will not only bring a sense of peace and confidence to myself, but will teach my girls to love themselves and their bodies.

And yes.  I wore that purple bikini on my vacation.  Stretch marks and all.