1. Recently, I was killing two birds with one stone, doing some ab work while chatting with my eight-year-old daughter Iris and my husband Lee as part of Iris’s wind-down routine before bed. I was holding a plank when Iris, sweetly, crawled under me and looked up adoringly. Then she giggled.
“Your belly!” She squealed. “Why is it so squishy?!”
Lee looked at me, apologetically. “Iris,” he said simply, a cautionary tone.
“No,” I said, “It’s OK.” And it was. I explained that my belly was squishy because it had grown three babies, and that skin and muscles take time to shrink down, and sometimes never do. I was matter-of-fact, and I was clear that squishy bellies are natural and beautiful, but also that I sometimes miss my old body and clothes. I will never, ever beat myself up in front of my kids or insult any woman’s physical appearance. But I won’t be afraid of honest conversation in a thoughtful, safe setting.
2. I wake up at 5:30 a.m. to run before my hour commute and full workday. I snack on mixed nuts and carrot sticks. I ran my first 5K in 16 years this summer – and won. My desire to drop my pregnancy weight has birthed a new, healthier, happier version of me. Before my third child, I weighed 98 pounds but could get winded climbing stairs.
No, I will not obsess, privately or in front of my children, over a number on a scale. But I will continue to set goals that involve my body. And I will model behavior that celebrates dedication, grit and resilience. I will communicate with my body and my routine that self-betterment is attainable, though it often comes at the price of hard work. Yes, I will also communicate this with my professional goals and creative goals and parenting goals. But I will not be shamed into hiding my body goals. I will celebrate them.
We live in a culture that rightfully labels of childhood obesity an epidemic. Obviously, let’s take care and not be dicks about it, but also, let’s not be afraid to be open about our fitness goals and how they relate to body image.
Ladies, are we that broken? Are we so fragile that we cannot allow play to enter the sphere of our own aesthetic? Do we truly believe that any indulgence in (gasp!) “traditional” girly activity is a blanketed reinforcement of society’s ever-present judgment? I don’t. And neither will my girls, if I can help it.
Let’s raise strong women – not by pretending to be confident but by being confident. And how about we stop our daughters from equating physical appearance with self worth partly by ceasing to assume they are?
4. One of my clearest childhood memories involves my mother coming home early from a stroller walk with my baby sister, the reason being that some punk-ass pre-teen boys were harassing her. They called her a cow. A cow. Eight-year-old me didn’t understand what a newly post-partum body was or how a woman begins to form a new relationship with herself in the light of so much body drama. But, I heard the catch in her voice, then my dad’s hushed and reassuring tones. I saw her shock thinly disguised as quick anger and the piercing hurt in her blue eyes that were exactly the same shade as my own.
And, you know what? I didn’t learn to hate – or even question – my body that day. I didn’t begin to view my mother as fat, and I didn’t learn that fat equals bad. I learned that my mom was a person. For the first time ever, it really sunk in that she had feelings and insecurities that were so utterly separate from me and my needs. I learned empathy.
5. Iris has always had a temper, fierce and fiery. Lee and I finally decided to take her to a counselor a few months ago to help her regulate her emotions. She was instantly resistant, and I tried to reassure her by listing all the friends and family members we know who have sought counseling before. But, Iris remained depleted, eyes downward.
“You never had to go,” she said in small, defeated voice.
My breath caught in my throat. How dramatically I'd failed. No, I never went to counseling, but I have struggled deeply with my emotions, buried them, manufactured them into migraines and pre-ulcerous conditions and broken relationships. I never want my child to think that I am perfect because I never, ever want her to feel like I am inaccessible. I never want her to withhold a problem or fear because she thinks I won’t get it.
There will be so much I won’t understand. I know this. I can’t follow her through life making every possible mistake so that in case she ever screws up in that particular way, she will come to me for perspective. I know the holes in this logic are gaping and many. But, my hope is that she will transfer the emotional truth, that maybe, she will pause in her moments of great difficulty and self-loathing – because those moments will find her – and remember that I know what it’s like to feel imperfect. My hope is that she will remember that I am a person, too.