This morning brought with it a handful of Facebook posts sharing these musings from Sarah Koppelkam of Hope Avenue. It is a sweet and idealistic post about what we should tell our daughters about their bodies. The short, short version is this: we should tell them nothing, beyond the functional.
Again, these are lovely thoughts. I choked up a little reading “She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.” Excellent points are made about the importance of not degrading ourselves or other women in front of our daughters, and helping them to learn by example. Move your own furniture, don’t fear carbs, etc. All great advice. Still, after the first read, something didn’t sit right with me.
And then it struck me.
This is almost exactly how my mother raised me.
There was no fat shaming in my house (and we’ve already covered that I was a chubby kid), and there was no celebration of thinness or beauty. This practice of non-discussion was extended to me, my sisters, my mom, and the other women in our lives. My mother encouraged all of us to play sports that we liked, even to the extent of coaching some of our teams. My mother is a fierce, strong, hardworking woman. She takes pleasure in all kinds of foods and experiences and spending time with her loved ones. She is a brilliant chef who has passed on to me a deep love of preparing and sharing food. My mom always encouraged me to pursue and improve my talents as an actress, writer, and singer. She believed I was capable of those things even when I didn’t believe it myself.
I couldn’t ask for a more ideal role model for confidence, self-worth, and accomplishment.
So why did I go through years of insecurity, struggles with eating, and body image issues?
The reality is that we are not the only influences in our daughters’ lives. While I commend the author and my mother for everything they did right, I think it’s crucial to point out what’s missing.
We need to be prepared to talk to our daughters about their bodies, because they will have questions.
Whether it’s: ‘why do my thighs touch and my sister’s don’t?’ or ‘why do boys always like the skinny girls?’ or ‘why does so and so have breasts already when I don’t?’ There will be moments where talking to our daughters about their bodies becomes essential. We need to arm her with tools to navigate a world that challenges all of the principles and ideals we’ve worked so hard to instill within her.
When I was young and chubby and working through that self-consciousness, it wasn’t in my mother’s toolbox to help me. She came from a family where being thin was an ideal and an expectation. Her mother and her grandmother were intensely fat-phobic. My mother and I weren’t able to talk about those things until I was very much an adult, and had found my own way through the jungle of messages telling me that how I looked mattered a great deal. I don’t blame her for not having those tools, and I am grateful to her for not passing on the judgements that she was raised with.
But I want to have those tools for my daughter.
I don’t have a daughter, yet. If nature hadn’t intervened, I’d be on my way to having one, but that daughter was not meant to be. All the same, I had enough time to begin to consider what kind of parent I would want to be for her, and these are the things that came to mind.
It would be wonderful if we never had to address the reality of value placed on a woman solely because of how she looks. But that isn’t the world we live in. There are numerous things we can do to work on changing that reality, but in the meantime, we need to be ready to talk to our daughters about their bodies. Because they will have questions.
with me every step of the way