Real Simple just made a video, "What your daughter hears when you criticize yourself." And I admit it has me scanning my recent memory for negative self-talk moments that could have been overheard by my two teen girls.
The video features several preteen girls making comments like, "I need to lose at least 20 pounds" and "I'm so bad! I ate a cupcake today!" It's hard to watch, even if the girls in this case are just reciting lines from a script. Because they're lines most women know by heart — and have internalized — by the time we're adults.
The girls go on to give alternative messages: "Everyone's beautiful," being one of them. The contrast of the two kinds of messages is stark.
"Research shows that girls who think their moms dislike their own bodies are more likely to be dissatisfied with their own," the video states. The video doesn't cite specific research, but I don't need it to know that there's truth here... so very much.
I've written in the past about trying to be body-positive with my girls, starting when they were babies. I got quite a bit of flak on my old blog for writing a piece about being naked in front of my daughters — and not diving immediately for cover.
When they were little — and because we were an all-girl household — there were few closed doors, and often they'd talk to me during and after a shower or while I got dressed. I remember consciously trying to shake off my shyness and answer their body questions in straightforward, no-fuss, fun, self-loving way. Easier said than done, I know. It took practice. A lot of practice.
As a girl, I used to make sad, tedious lists rating all of my body parts: eyes, 9; nose, 1; legs, 2; and so on. I found one of these lists not too long ago and it nearly broke my heart. And if I'm being honest, I still feel the same way about my nose and my legs. The funny thing is, my own mother was not one to badmouth herself or put too much focus on appearance, so I'm not sure where I got the early message that I didn't measure up. I think the messages for young girls are just more pervasive than we even realize. They were then, and they certainly still are now, helped along by the internet — and Victoria's Secret lingerie commercials on network TV.
My daughters and I have had many, many talks over the years about why I like my curves (I look like the curvy Polish shepherdesses in my DNA) and why I like my belly (because they'd lived there). We've talked about shaving (purely your own preference, other people don't get to tell you that you have to shave or need to shave) and cellulite (stay healthy, but don't fret, it's genetics). The word "diet" is one of the few off-limits words at our house ("hate" and the F-word are two others). My weight has fluctuated over the years, but I've tried not to focus (at least aloud) on it.
As both of them edged into the teen years, I held my breath to see if they'd start rating themselves or worry about their shape or their weight. So far, at 15 and 13, they don't. We struggle as a family with other things, but I think we're doing OK as two young women and one middle-aged woman when it comes to body thinking and embracing what we've got.
We talk about food as fuel and the need for the intake to match the physical activity level most of the time. I'm not a great cook, so they are not in any danger of my overloading them with culinary masterpieces. But there is often ice cream passed around in the carton with three spoons diving in. There are chips. There's occasional fast food. And still, it works for us.
Both girls dance (African dance for the older, ballet and jazz for the younger) and have played field hockey and lacrosse. I never danced or played sports as a kid, and I think that would have helped loosen the anxiety in my chest about my appearance. I have no doubt it would have been a huge boon for my self-esteem.
These days, my younger one goes to the YMCA with me and runs on the treadmill next to mine. We hit the weight machines too. But mostly we laugh and sweat and talk about anything but our bodies or our weight.
I'm grateful, but I'm also not letting my guard down. I'm listening to how they talk to me and how they talk to each other about how comfortable they are in their own skin.
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