Some Thoughts on Talking to Daughters About Their Bodies

I don’t generally address posts that have gone viral or news stories meant to make a stir, like the “Are You Mom Enough” cover of Time from a few years back. It’s just not my style.

But last week and friend sent me the link to a post called “How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body.” I love that she sent it to me. There’s a lot of really empowering stuff in there, a lot that I do want to model for my kids. Less talk about not eating carbs, and more consistent cooking of healthy meals, and overall well-being and so on.

self discovery

I read the post and moved on, but it kept creeping back into my thoughts. (And also showing up on Facebook.) While I appreciate a lot about the tone of the piece, we do intend to approach things differently with our kids. Here’s what I’m thinking.

1. Most women DO struggle with body image in some shape or form. Instead of trying to create a body image bubble around my daughters, I want to engage them there.

I firmly believe that as parents, we are the loudest voices in the lives of our children, and we need to take this very seriously. This is one of the most beautiful functions of family (which, on the flip-side makes its abuse deeply hurtful). I realize that part of what the original post is getting at is the carelessness under which we sometimes operate, forgetting that when we breathe out “my body isn’t acceptable,” our children breathe that in. So yes, let’s be thoughtful, careful, and intentional about what we say about our own bodies. (And let’s not let that just be a front for our kids, let’s make sure we really are addressing body image issues we have.)

The problem is that we are not the only voices in our children’s lives. Someone will talk to them about negative body image. Remember that scene in Mean Girls, where Katy is at Regina George’s house and all three original Plastics stand in front of the mirror complaining about their bodies on cue? They turn, in unison, to look at Katy, who grew up in the plains of Africa with her anthropologist parents, and with a confused look she says, “I, uh, have really bad breath in the morning…”

I REALLY want Liv and Eliza to be that stunned when they hear another person make an unnecessary complaint about his or her own physique. I would love it if the only response my girls can come up with in those moments could be something as hilarious as temporary halitosis. But it won’t be, even if I never utter a word about my body or theirs. So I intend to talk to them about it, to discuss how they feel about their bodies (in addition to how they work). How can they combat negative thoughts about their bodies? How can they focus on overall wellness? From a Christian perspective, what is the Truth about their whole being? These are the things I expect to talk through with my kids as they get older.

2. In our bodies, we can celebrate form and function combined. And then some.

At first glance, there’s a lot to love about the last section, which reads:

Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.

Yes! I want my kids to breathe deeply and be proud of what their bodies are capable of. I want to model this for them. I want them to find their thing, and go with it. If appropriate, I want to do it with them. (Fingers-crossed on the mother-daughter jazz duet of my dreams!)

I want my kids to move beyond being frustrated with thick thighs or a wide ribcage to being proud of what their bodies can do. Absolutely. But along the way, ribs needn’t be reduced to packaging for the lungs and bodies are more than just soul-carriers. I want to help my daughters address the parts of their bodies they may not be satisfied with. Why does this bother you? How does that fit into the big picture of who you are? That color really brings out your eyes, by the way. I love that you have your dad’s eyes. The goal there is the realization that the body is a blend of form and function, and both can be celebrated.

Further, a huge part of thinking about our own bodies and communicating about them to our children is acknowledging that we are 3 part beings – physical, spiritual, and emotional. The physical isn’t just there to serve the (superior) intellectual. They are beautifully, wonderfully, mysteriously interwoven.

This may not seem like that big of a deal, but I actually think that as we continue to welcome digital media into our lives, an emphasis on the physical becomes extremely important. When our identity is partially made up of profiles, filtered pictures, and yes, blog posts, taking time to remember the impact and value of physical presence is key. I’m not saying the interwebs is bad, but I am saying that it can take work to keep one foot in the real world. You can’t value physical presence in general with out acknowledging one’s physical presence individually. So, we’ll talk about this, and though we often fail (because Instagram!), we’ll try to model it.

3. What about beauty?

When we emphasize function over form, we allow little room beauty, don’t we? Our hearts sing when we see/hear/feel something beautiful. Their creator build that in and no matter what we believe, we feel it.

Beauty isn’t the only thing, but it is an important thing. It is valuable. We love beautiful things, and we want to celebrate when our kids recognize beauty in the world around them. I don’t want to suggest to my kids that they’re excluded from that by ignoring their looks. It is okay to want to feel physically beautiful. While that need should be tempered by the knowledge that beauty is more than just the physical, we don’t need to shut that part down completely. So, rather that suggesting that my kids put a lid on their desire to be beautiful, I want communicate that their bodies, their spirits, their minds – they are full of beauty. Actual, physical beauty and the intangible beauty of the intellectual, emotional and spiritual.

 

So. Why take the time to think through this? Because it’s so real to me. So much a part of my now, and my future. And because I think the conversation is worth continuing.

At the end of the day (or days, rather), we aren’t living a parental formula. We can’t guarantee that our children won’t struggle with body image or a plethora of other issues even with the right thoughts and wording. So when it comes to specific issues like talking to them about body image, I want to be sure to tell them the whole truth. To put it in context and help them plug this issue into the bigger story of their full personhood, their full identity, and to the fullness of their beauty.

 

What did you think when you read the original HuffPost piece? How has what’s been communicated to you about your body influenced what you communicate to children about theirs? Any additions or deletions?

7 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Talking to Daughters About Their Bodies

  1. I didn’t read the Huffington Post piece, but I do know that body image etc. is of huge importance to me!

    For now, we are just really positive. I am not negative about myself in front of them (or when they aren’t around, either, so I’m not faking it :)), so not liking how they look isn’t what’s normal for them. I have a lot of freckles on my arms, which I’m just very used to. My girls have a few and they think the freckles are awesome and say things like, “I have pretty dots on my arm like mommy!”

    I read once to be really positive when doing their hair. I feel like most women hate their hair at some (or many) points of their life. I say things like, “How did you get to be so pretty AGAIN today?”

    I know that there will be many voices in their lives, but mine is the loudest. During church yesterday, my daughter was being silly with a friend and she tied her two braids in a knot. Her friend said, “Your hair looks ugly like that.” So, Leah undid her hair. I was a little ticked 🙂 Leah had to go to the bathroom and while we were washing hands, I told her that I had heard what her friend said and how it was unkind and not true, etc. She gave me a big hug and said, “Thanks Mom!” She’s 7, so she cares what I think more than anyone else. I hope that lasts 🙂

    I know that this part of parenting needs to be fluid…adjusting to what they need, when they need it!

    I think the thing that is extra important to me is that they know being kind and having a soft heart towards Jesus is more important than how they look.

    Now, if only I could be that intentional in the million other areas of mommy-hood!

    1. 1 – I love freckles. I have them all over and I noticed on on Liv’s nose this morning…I hope she has some too!
      2- Yes, hair is a big thing. It’s taken me a long time to be happy with my hair…that’s interesting b/c I wouldn’t have thought of it as something I didn’t like about my physical appearance…but I guess it was! I can’t believe the hair-church incident…that’s so frustrating. Isn’t it nice to know they hear us too?
      3- Yes, kind, soft-hearted, and (primarily) lovers of the Lord! Isn’t it nice to know that we’re their parents but he’s their God?

  2. Kristi, you are so wise. Body image issues aren’t just something that we ignore, because, like you said, if our children don’t hear negative messages directed at them about their bodies (won’t they be lucky!), they will hear them directed at others. You want them to be prepared. When I was younger, I was teased a lot for being too skinny – I can remember coming home crying because a group of kids in my 6th grade class started calling me “shrimp”. Not the worst thing in the world, but still hurtful when at an age when all you want to do is fit in. I remember my mom talking me through how God made each of us beautiful and that beauty is unique in each of us and how what’s important is how I feel about myself. She didn’t disregard my desire to fit in, but had me focus on the parts of me that I loved, and to think about whether I agreed with those bullies or not (I didn’t). Later, when I came to her for help on adding a little bulk to my slight frame, it was out of wanting to be more competitive on the soccer field than caring what others thought of me. I was secure because my mom had taught me to love my body because it was God’s image.

    Also- the article should have addressed talking to “children” and not just “daughters”. Boys have to learn to love their bodies and can be bullied and ridiculed just like girls. One of my son’s was born with a concave chest cavity. Not a severe one, but it is a noticeable dip in the middle of his chest that will be impossible to cover up in the locker room or at the pool. And boys can be just as cruel as girls. I don’t want for him to find out from the bullies in the locker room that he’s a little different. I want him to be secure with himself not ignoring what he might one day be ridiculed for. And he doesn’t have to love that part of him. But I hope to make him confident enough to love himself as a whole – physical, emotional, spiritual – recognize that everyone is different and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to search for what is beautiful in everyone. To use his words to build himself and others up, not down. And if he really is uncomfortable with his chest, I’ll talk to him about why, and as long as it isn’t just to please others, empower him to be in control of his appearance and minimize the “dip” in a healthy way. Like you said, Kristi, we have to teach our children to love and celebrate their bodies as a part of their whole beauty, as a creature of God. And if there is something that they don’t love, we don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel that way because it’s shallow thinking, we give them courage to change what they can, as long as the motivation is for themselves and not others, and the means are healthy. (sorry this turned into a novel and not a comment) 🙂

  3. What a great model your mom set! I remember being called Casper b/c I was (am) so pale. My mom did the same thing…reminded me of the most important parts of me (that I am made by God, in his image) but took me seriously too, and I know she shared self-tanner with me along the way=)
    I agree that sons should be included here…the struggle may come out differently or for different reasons but everyone goes through a self-awareness that can lead to insecurity!

    Doesn’t it stink that it’s so easy to know this now, but so hard when you’re actually IN the locker room (or classroom or studio, like when my ballet teacher pointed out my scoliosis)? I want to remember that…that it DOES feel different when you’re younger and it isn’t easy to gloss over. Anyway, thanks for commenting=)

  4. this is fantastic Kristi. Thanks for sharing your words! I know that I will be mulling over your thoughts on this for a while — it’s such a great perspective. : ) Hope you’re doing great and enjoying little Piper! : )

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