A few weeks ago, we were having breakfast with family. My four-year-old son and my two-year-old daughter were both tearing up some pancakes with equal wolf-like ferocity, but a comment was suddenly thrown at my daughter: “What a pig you are!” A few minutes later, she got another one: “You’re going to be SO full!” And later: “Goodness, you’re going to get a stomach ache if you keep eating so much!” She continued to happily eat until she was finished, the jabs about how much she was eating (thankfully) going right over her head—because she’s only TWO.
She’s only two. My baby girl still shows off her big belly with pride, still eats exactly how much she wants, still has no concept of “fat” or “skinny,” still has no body image worries. This innocent, tender age is fleeting, and after that big breakfast of pancakes with a side of underhanded remarks aimed at my beautiful baby, I realized with sorrow that it’s already coming to a close. Apparently, starting right now and continuing for as long as my daughter is alive, she will be told what she should eat, how much she should eat, what she should look like, and how to mold her body so that it looks how someone else says it should look. She’ll learn that it’s normal—even encouraged—to despise your own arms, tummy, butt, thighs, boobs, neck. She’ll hear comments on weight directed at her friends and directed right at her. An extremely narrow view of airbrushed beauty will present itself to her as she walks through a shopping mall. As soon as she learns to read, she’ll learn “what your man wants in bed” from sickly thin, scantily clad women on the covers of magazines when we go grocery shopping.
My daughter will be inundated with a negative image of her body for as long as she lives, but when it came from a family member that day, it jolted something in me. Shouldn’t our home, our family, and our good friends be a safe haven from all that bullsh*t? I’m going to do my absolute best to protect her from it as long as I can, but I know I can’t protect her forever. That’s why it’s my personal errand to be the voice in her head when she’s out from under my wing, the voice that reassures her, calms her, and reminds her constantly of how beautiful she is, of what beauty IS. Here is my promise to my baby girl—and to all your little girls that happen into my life.
- I will never police her appetite. I’m borrowing this phrase from an article I read recently that put words to what I was feeling. It is largely accepted that making kids “clean their plates” is actually quite damaging, and that if we don’t force kids to eat too much, they will always be able to self-regulate. That’s why, for three solid meals a day, I will put healthy foods in front of my daughter, and then I will let her be. It is up to me to feed her well. It is up to her how much of it to eat. Occasionally, I will give her special treats, and I will never make comments that might make her feel that eating them is not entirely encouraged.
- I will not teach her to associate special treats with guilt. So often I have heard women apologize for eating dessert or talk about how much more they will have to work out because they ate dessert or deny themselves dessert altogether. There is a difference between indulgence and overindulgence, and I want my daughter to grow up knowing that difference. When she does have a treat, I want her to enjoy every last bite of it, then smile as she puts her fork down, satisfied and happy.
- I will not comment on my own weight in her presence. We all have “fat days.” We all look in the mirror some mornings and sigh at our boob sagginess, our stretch marks, our post-baby weight. But I will not let my daughter hear these insecurities, because I don’t want her to see them in herself someday.
- I will not comment on another woman’s weight. I get persnickety comments on my weight sometimes, because I’m fairly thin though I’ve had two kids, and because I love food and frequently eat a lot in front of people. But it drives me CRAZY when those comments are within earshot of my daughter. I will not make comments on another woman’s weight because I don’t want my daughter to see people through an overweight or underweight lense. In addition, I won’t roll my eyes and jealously call someone else “skinny” because I don’t want my daughter to learn to compare herself to anyone else, regardless of what the scale says.
- I will let my daughter see me living as healthy and happy a life as I possibly can. I will let her see me exercise because I want to have a healthy heart and body and live for a long time. I will encourage my children to get plenty of exercise and play outside. I will eat well and voraciously—without guilt—and I will laugh a lot, and I will teach my children to do the same. One of my favorite quotes is from French chef and author Julia Child: “People who love to eat are the best kinds of people.” This will be my life.
And even though she’ll likely get all the wrong lessons about her body from magazines and billboards and friends and sometimes even family, my promise is that my life, my passion for healthy, delicious food, my commitment to exercise, and my body image will be an example to my daughter.