Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The 4 Unofficial House Rules I Hope Will Help My Kids Avoid Inheriting My Body Issues

Here is me, standing on my local beach, in a bathing suit:

helping kids avoid body issues

It seems silly to say that posting this photo is brave but then, you don't know the kind of effort it takes me to share it. If I had my way, we'd all be wearing early 1900s bathing costumes complete with bloomers. But that's not the world we live in, so I try to find remind myself that practically everyone else at the beach is wearing approximately half of what I usually am and more importantly, no one is looking at me anyway.

Because on a gorgeous day at the beach what my inner voice is saying pretty much the entire time is "Better suck in that gut, chunky" and "Look at those thighs go squish" and "Your arms in the breeze go flap flap flap" and so on. My inner voice is, frankly, a real jerk sometimes.

Maybe yours is, too. It's pretty common - particularly among us ladies. As a friend said on her blog just the other day, “How much time have I wasted in my life, hating my body? How much time do all women spend, hating their bodies? Why do we do this? Think of all the stuff we could accomplish if we just didn’t care. Where does this even come from?”

In my case, it came from a body that started preparing itself for the big push of puberty by packing on the pounds, so that by the time I was 12 I was getting pretty big, and a world that noticed. My mom noticed, and we talked about it - and I can't remember what exactly we talked about but I started hiding food so it couldn't have been a Hallmark-worthy heart to heart. And older folks liked to say things like "She'll stop eating so much when she decides she wants a boyfriend!" Getting bigger meant boobs, too, because for me boobs were like puberty's advanced troops, and so I was 12 and fat and suddenly getting male attention of the creepiest kind because that's what you get from the kind of guys who can see 12 and think 17.

Now I'm 33 and - to be totaly honest - my BMI is on the lower side of average and I've grown into the boobs (at least mentally), but that 12 year old girl is still in there somewhere watching her thighs squish and squeezing her gut in the bathroom mirror because yet another well-meaning relative pointed out that extra weight.

And I will be damned if either of my kids will go through that same experience. Do people gain weight? For sure. It's not always the precursor to puberty, either. But you know what? That's okay. It happens. And chunky kids know they're chunky and don't need the people who are supposed to accept them no matter what to point out that if they ever want to find a boyfriend or girlfriend, they'll do something about it. Gain weight or lose it, but don't develop a complex like mama. That's the goal, and that's why I created four unofficial house rules for dealing with the whole issue of weight:
  • We acknowledge that people come in different shapes and sizes. There is not good terminology for this, unfortunately. In the past, especially during the early days when P. would say things like "THAT MAN IS BALD, MAMA!", she would commente now and then on people's sizes. I know not everyone wants to have their weight scrutinized by a little one, but I'd rather have P. tell me so-and-so is fat without a trace of judgment than think it with any kind of scorn. Some people are fat. Some people are thin. NBD. Everyone can be happy and healthy and beautiful. End of story.
  • No scales. No numbers. We get weighed at the doctor, and that's part of either seeing how much you've grown - and growing is good! - or a regular part of a check-up. But I know from experience how insidious the numbers on a scale can be and I don't want my own kids to feel like they're bad people because they aren't seeing the number they want on that stupid thing. Solution: We don't keep one in the house.
  • Self-esteem is about so much more than what you look like. Yes, I tell P. she is pretty because I think she is absolutely gorgeous. But I also give her lots of praise when she is brave enough to try new things or smart enough to figure out a problem on her own or curates an awesome outfit all on her own. Her self worth should be mostly about her willingness to do and to try, but feeling pretty is okay, too. It's when feeling pretty is the only important thing that you've got a problem. BUT I don't ever, ever, ever praise P. for being thin.
  • I don't talk negatively about my body in front of P. or Bo. Sometimes the negative self-talk will creep into my internal monologue, but I make sure it stays internal. And I don't talk negatively about other people's bodies - or what they're wearing at such and such a size, either. People's bodies can do amazing things at different weights, and it's not my place to make inferences about someone's health or self-esteem based on what I see. I need P. and Bo to see that I love what my body can do - because I do.
Do you have body issues you don't want to pass on to your kids? How are you handling issues surrounding weight and health and self-esteem? Give me your tips for keeping your kids' body image healthy - I need all the help I can get!

8 comments:

  1. Your posts always make me think. I haven't worried about passing down my body image issues to my daughter. Maybe I should? I know I have them, but I guess I have gotten good at not voicing them. So far, I just focus on exercise and eating right and making sure I set that example. also, body acceptance...we often talk about our bubble booties with pride

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    1. YEAH TO THE BUBBLE BOOTIES! I'm jealous!

      I think not giving voice to our issues will go a long way toward helping our daughters avoid their own. How many of us grew up with moms on diets or female relatives who criticized their bodies openly? It can rub off on kids so fast!

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  2. My main area I worry about are my hips and thighs. I always feel self-conscious in shorts. However, I remind myself that I look great in pencil skirts and my proportions make my waist look tiny. Plus, I have photos from high school where I was on the track and cross country teams, and weighed 115 lbs, and I STILL had those thighs. There is NO WAY I'll ever get close to that weight again, let alone go back to running 6 miles a day, so why the hell should I worry about the silhouette of my body if even extreme measures wouldn't change anything?

    I often have to bite my lip when I want to criticize something about my body, but I remember how much I hate it when my husband bemoans his. We both think that each other is fabulous, so why waste time and energy believing anything else?

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  3. I recently had weight loss surgery and am still very much working getting my weight to a healthy place. I'm trying very hard not to make food a big deal for my kiddos. I haven't thought too much about passing on my body image issues to them. I like your rules! Sounds like something we can do here too!

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    1. They're like little sponges - who knows what they pick up from us grownups!

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  4. I do have some body issues, and I sometimes make too many comments about it around my daughter. (She is 19 now, though, and I tried harder not to do that when she was smaller!) When my kids were younger, I tried to emphasize health, rather than weight in our discussions at home. It is a challenge.

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  5. Hey, Bo is pretty too!
    (says Lorena)

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