As parents, all of us carry with us something from our own childhood that we want to be better for our children. Maybe you were an only child and always wished for a sibling, so you’re trying to get pregnant a second time. Maybe you hated your public school education experience so you save tirelessly so your kid(s) can go to private school. Maybe you had a bad relationship with your mother, so you work hard at always being there for your kid(s).
Regardless of how serious the issue, we shoulder the innate responsibility to provide—to the best of our ability in any given circumstance—a foundation that will set up our children to be happy.
There are so many things that I want for my daughter, but above anything else, I want her to have a healthy self-image and be comfortable and confident in her skin.
I am especially sensitive to this particular issue because I have struggled with my feelings toward my body for as long as I can remember. Despite my petite adult frame, as a child I was always larger than my peers—and definitely twice as awkward—which, as you might imagine, led to reckless remarks from other kids that I was ill-prepared to brush off. Combine that with the overabundance of waif-like models and actresses in media (read: everything I was reading or watching) and the low-fat craze of the early ’90s and you have a recipe for disaster. Before I knew it, I was swapping out mustard for mayonnaise and leaving cheese off of my sandwiches. Heresy, I tell you.
Fast-forward a few years to my adolescence and young adulthood (ah, college) and you’ll find a slew of choices made that I now attribute to a deep-seeded lack of confidence and respect for my body followed closely by a need for control.
Years passed. I grew up, got a job, got married, and eventually, got pregnant . . . with a girl. (I may or may not have asked the ultrasound technician at EVERY appointment to double-check the gender. At the time I was—a little embarrassingly—not up for the challenge.)
My husband and I take full responsibility for teaching this little girl how to love herself so she is (hopefully) in a better position to navigate tough situations and feelings. She is only three, but the conversation has been constant since the day she arrived. While we work to incorporate this into as much as we can, there are a few points we like to really focus on:
We tell her she is beautiful, but also tell her she is smart, kind, strong, and brave. She’ll need to know that assuredly during those awkward adolescent years that are kind to no one.
We talk openly about exercising to relieve stress and to feel strong and healthy—not to lose weight or please anyone but herself.
We talk about how eating too many “treats” prevents the healthy food we eat from doing its best work for our bodies—not that eating junk food makes you fat (a word that we don’t use in our house). I also like to include a mantra from my own mom: everything in moderation.
We talk about how all people are different shapes, sizes, and colors with varying opinions, thoughts, and feelings; to be accepting of others for exactly who they are and to stay true to who SHE is.
We take seriously the types of female characters she is exposed to in books, movies, and TV shows, being careful to avoid anything with girls or women who are overly focused on appearance or other stereotypically “girly” things. (For example, she used to watch a lot of Peppa Pig: a female lead who isn’t afraid to ask questions or try new things. Now her favorite is Wild Kratts; two of the four main characters are female and are scientists who solve the majority of the problematic situations the other two characters get themselves into.)
We make sure she knows that girls can do anything boys can do—except “go potty” standing up.
My feeling is that if we can strengthen her self-image now, even through small actions like the ones above, she will know how wonderful she is and be kind to herself—and others, for that matter—through the tough years. I truly believe that if she starts there, she can go anywhere.