Every time I meet a mom with high school aged children, and hear her talking about her kids’ SAT scores, college visits, prom, getting a car, and dating, I think there really are new levels of challenges and adventures for moms at every stage of their children’s lives. I also can’t help but appreciate the wisdom and depth this mom has most likely amassed as she has navigated so many questions, concerns, joys, and difficult topics with her older children.
If only I could take a quick download of her experiences and bottle them up for easy access to guaranteed effective conversations and calm listening skills she must have employed for my future use! Is my kid feeling stressed and over-scheduled with academics and sports? Flip to chapter 6 and hit the “easy” button. Daughter dealing with peer pressure and friendship issues? Click “here” for two-day Amazon delivery on a solution. [If only it could be that easy!]
One of the hardest topics I’ve encountered so far in my journey as a mom of tween daughters is body image. With that in mind, do any of us know any females who are 100% comfortable with their bodies? Suffice it to say, the struggle is real in this area for most women. So. How does a mom go about promoting a healthy and body positive attitude for her daughters when so many societal signs point to thin and beautiful as being the preferred status, especially when the mom herself isn’t even fully comfortable with her own body? To be honest, it’s a challenge I continue to work through on a daily basis. And I know I am not alone.
Over the years, my younger daughter has taken an interest in watching me put makeup on and looking through my cosmetic bag. I don’t wear makeup everyday, and my makeup routine (when I do) is about 5 minutes, with a focus on quick and a ‘less is more’ outlook. One day, she asked me why I wear makeup. I struggled with what to say. I said it was to smooth out my face and blend in my freckles and moles with my skin, which may not have been the best answer I could’ve given, but it was honest. Was I telling her that her adorable freckles needed to be hidden? She asked if she could wear makeup. I said she could when she was older and that she looked beautiful even without makeup. She said, “So are you.”
In a separate conversation she asked me why everyone on TV was so skinny. I was caught off guard by the question and unprepared to answer. I said that everyone is different, special, and unique and you don’t have to look like the people you see on television. After I had a chance to think, I added that celebrities have access to chefs, fitness trainers, cosmetic surgery, etc. and their job involves looking like they do, even if it is not a true representation of what most people look like. And even later after more thought, I told her the focus should be on the amazing things your body can do: jumping, running, cartwheels… And how you feel about yourself and others: caring, being a friend, being happy… I have no idea if I answered this question correctly or helpfully.
But I realized, while every conversation may not go perfectly, just having the conversation can be a learning experience in itself. For both of us. In fact, here are some ways I have worked hard to incorporate body positivity into our family life.
Healthy and Strong
“Healthy and strong” is my mantra, especially when it comes to eating habits and exercise, which is why I promote consuming a variety of foods. This is a delicate issue as I try to encourage healthy foods, while trying not to label foods as good and bad. My hope is that as they see me eating broccoli and bell peppers, they will eventually be more interested in having some too. I also like my chocolate and ice cream though, and I really believe that trying to keep the house free of cookies and chips will only make the kids want them more, or feast on them when they do have access at a friend’s house. I talk about listening to your tummy when it tells you it’s full, how good it feels to exercise, and how strong I personally feel when I go to kickboxing.
Diet and Weight Loss Neutrality
I make a concerted effort to not discuss diets or losing weight in front of my kids, whether it’s in regards to me personally or to others. If I feel uncomfortable with my body or my jeans are a little tight, I talk about it to a friend or my husband when my kids are not listening. When a weight loss commercial comes on TV, I remind them the most important thing is to feel healthy and strong at any size. We talk about how people come in all shapes and sizes, and that clothing size is just a number. The more important factor is if your clothes are comfortable and you feel good in them.
Positive Female Role Models
I point out the women in our lives – and the world – who are pushing the limits of strength and positive body image. Can a person watch Serena Williams or Simone Biles in action and not be in absolute awe of their muscular arms and legs? There’s also the tremendous female athletes on display during the 2019 US Women’s Soccer World Cup games. The teenage teachers of my daughter’s dance classes spinning multiple pirouettes are another fine example of strength and balance, over body size. And while I feel the need to censor some lyrics, Lizzo is a bold and amazing display of body confidence that I can only envy. I even encourage the kids’ Barbie playtime to involve activities such as going hiking or attending college instead of focusing entirely on looking beautiful to go on a date with Ken. Ultimately, my hope is that all of these seemingly small comments and situations will add up over time to have a meaningful impact on how they view themselves.
Equal Treatment of Different Body Types
One of my daughters is naturally of a more streamlined and thin body type, and also veers towards fruit for a snack. The other has a naturally fuller figure and loves sweets – two things she may have gotten from her Mama. I work very hard to celebrate their unique bodies. I make a conscious effort to stay aware of how I shop for clothes for them. Black pants and slimming tops aren’t a requirement if you are living in a larger body. If my daughters want to pull off neon leggings at any size, I say “You go, girl!”
Both are still at a point where they are comfortable running around the house in sports bras and booty shorts, or even naked. I don’t comment on their bodies, unless people are coming over and in that case it’s time to put some clothes on. I also try to be fair in the treats and snacks they each get to have, not imposing my judgement of food choices in relation to their sizes.
Participation in Sports and Activities
I strongly encourage my kids to be involved in sports and get outside. Whether it’s playing badminton in the backyard, riding their bikes around the block, or participating in an organized sports activity, a moving body is an active body that isn’t sitting on the couch staring at technology. I point out how strong they must be to hit the ball that hard, run that fast, do a dance leap, or jump that high. There’s so much to be learned through participating in sports, not the least of which is what your body and mind are capable of. We include them in family bike rides and walks, and also try to model physical activity through my husband’s love of running and my kickboxing classes.
And when I put my daughters to bed at night, not only do I hug them and say “I love you” but I also may add “You’re smart, creative, a hard worker, a great friend, kind to animals, good at math.” In hopes that I can show them the big picture and give them a buffer for the onslaught of negative messages about their body they will inevitably receive from society, social media, and themselves in the days ahead.
What about you? How do you promote a positive body image for your daughters (and sons)?