What my daughter's favorite body part taught me about self-love

May 5, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. ET
Image: Theresa Edwards

We get so caught up in all of the things we dislike about our bodies that it sometimes takes a child's perspective to learn to appreciate their utility.

Recently my daughter came home with a school project I didn't even know she'd completed. "The Best Part of Me" landed on my counter unceremoniously in a heap of other papers for me to look at, and I just assumed it would be another one of those art projects that I surreptitiously slide into the trash can and cover with potato peels when no one is looking. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was an ode, a love letter even, from my daughter to her favorite body part.

"I love my arms because I can wiggle them to be silly. If I didn't have arms I could not use my hands. I like to hug and dance with these arms. I also like to wave goodbye."

Then, the clincher:

"My arms make me very happy."

Later, she would tell me there wasn't enough space to list every virtue: how they are great for swimming, petting dogs, group hugs, huddle breaks and for folding up under your head when you just want to lay on your back and be still for a while.

I felt a wave of jealousy. My daughter loves her arms and the rest of her body because of the amazing things it can do. She doesn't love her arms because the skin on them is unblemished and hairless and the muscles are nicely toned. She doesn't love her body for its shape or aesthetics or for the clothes she can fit onto it. She's only 8, after all. Why should she hate her body? It's been very good to her.

It took a second for everything to click into place, an embarrassingly long amount of time for that little voice in my head to say, Your body has been good to you, too, dumbass.

Take my legs, for example. Aesthetically, they're far from my favorite feature — they're a far sight wider up top than they used to be, and thoroughly dimpled. A person as short as I am comes to resent their legs for a number of reasons. Mine are oddly proportioned and never do my bidding when it comes time to stretch up for something on the top shelf. As a result, I punish them by refusing to let them see the light of day, so not only are they a bit jiggly, they’re pretty pale, too.

But if I were to look at my legs from my daughter's point of view, they become something else entirely. They're pretty top notch at helping me walk, for instance, which is useful for any number of things. Without them I couldn't indulge in one of the truest pleasures in life: jumping on the bed with an 8-year-old. They have the capacity to propel me forward and backward on the swing next to hers at the playground so we can both pretend we're flying.

When I fold them up, they make a pretty comfortable lap, which is key to facilitating cuddles, both with my own child and my friends' growing herd of little ones. I mean, I don't want to brag, but I have a pretty primo lap. It's very soft and has a max capacity of three babies. Or two babies and a toddler. Or one 8-year-old.

If I take this kind of perspective, the list of things I love about my legs grows and grows. Sticking off the bottom of them are two feet, perfect for strapping skates onto for roller derby. At the end of those are toes, each with its own little nail, and I kind of need those for the nights when my daughter just wants to talk and glitter polish our respective troubles away.

In the other direction, you'll find my hips, which are admittedly wider than they once were, but a favorite perch for my toddler nephew and a great place to balance cases of beer. I need both hips to have hula-hoop battles with my daughter, too, and when I'm slow dancing with my husband in the kitchen they make wonderful hand rests. They are always willing to help me strike a pose.

I'm supposed to be teaching my daughter how to love herself. To prize her body as it is and not how it could potentially be, with enough sit-ups and lunges and shapewear. Instead, she gave me a gift without even knowing it: A child's simple appreciation, and the permission I didn't even know I was waiting for to love myself a little more.

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