The day I’d been dreading since, well, forever finally came last week. My tween-aged daughter came home from school and started talking about all the things she doesn’t like about her body.
Honestly, it kills me. Because even though I’ve tried to lead by example with my own body acceptance journey, it still wasn’t enough to avoid getting here.
Now some folks might think I’m overreacting when I say hearing those words struck equal parts panic and heartbreak for me. But they did, and honestly, I’m having a hard time shaking it. My daughter is only 9, so it breaks my heart to know she’s already struggling to accept her body. But I suppose if I’m being honest, I was only 12 or so when I went through the same thing.
In my case, a lack of body acceptance and a really awful relationship with food resulted in me spending years recovering from an eating disorder. On one hand, I am terrified that she will follow down that same path. But on the other hand, I also realize that this is my chance to do things differently. Instead of panicking and worrying about what could happen, we can have conversations about why body acceptance is important, in hopes that she will have a different and healthier experience.
Talking About Body Acceptance With Tweens
Body acceptance isn’t just a trending topic. It’s an essential part of having a healthy relationship with your body. Whether you’re a man, a woman, or identity anywhere in between, it is a natural part of life for your body to continue to change as you age and grow.
When we went for her last checkup, my daughter’s pediatrician must have read my mind before I ever was able to say a word. Nonchalantly, she dropped questions here and there about my daughter’s body and the different changes it was going through. By not making it a big deal and just talking about it, she took away the emotion (read: my awful and panicky guilt) and reminded her that while she might not like that extra hair on her arms and legs, having it was a totally natural part of growing up.
Reaffirming this sentiment to your child is the critical difference between having a healthy relationship with their body and resenting it because it doesn’t look like everyone else’s. The truth is, no two people are the same, and neither are their bodies. As cliche as it might sound, we are all uniquely and wonderfully made — no matter what society, celebrities, or any plastic surgeons say.
As someone who has struggled with body acceptance her entire life, I am incredibly grateful to my daughter’s pediatrician for how she handled the conversation. Because as most of us know, these conversations can be life-changing and set the tone for decades to come. I know this because it happened to me.
Back when I was around her age, my pediatrician told my mother I was overweight. He prescribed eating less and exercising more. It was from that moment on that doctor’s appointments became less about checking up on my health, and more about an overwhelming sense of dread knowing I had to face the scale. But here’s the thing I needed to hear: there is nothing to fear about gaining weight or your body changing. It’s a normal part of life, regardless of the constant messages we receive about trying to change our bodies.
Your Body Will Change and Grow Your Entire Life — As It Should
Sometimes we get so caught up trying to make ourselves smaller that we forget the underlying message it sends to our children. They don’t need to lose weight or change their body. Arguably, no one does, but especially not our littles. They should be growing, changing, and thriving.
Encouraging and embracing body acceptance from a young age will not only help your kids navigate puberty, but will serve them years beyond that. Of course, I’m not saying it’s a one-and-done solution, but leading with body acceptance throughout their lives is much easier than trying to retroactively unlearn all the negative and toxic attitudes that society expects us to accept.
It’s taken me over two decades to come to a place of body acceptance. And honestly, some days, I’m still not quite there yet. Every day I work to consciously let go of what I think my body needs to look like, and instead appreciate it for everything it can do. While it’s a struggle worth navigating through, it’s a struggle I hope my daughters don’t have to live with their entire lives.
So even though my first instinct when my daughter came to me about disliking her body was to panic, it was so important that we could still talk about how normal those feelings are. It might be the first time, but it certainly won’t be the last. And as her mom, the best thing I can do is listen, give her an open space to talk about how she feels, and empower her to accept her body throughout every season of life.