3 Body Image Lessons To Teach Our Daughters (And Ourselves)

by Caitlin Lane
Originally Published: 
body image lessons for girls
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The first thing that you need to know is that I used to weigh almost 300 pounds. At 5 feet 4 inches tall, I was solidly in the “obese” category. And I hated myself. I didn’t look in mirrors, I ducked out of pictures, and I wore double layers of shirts because I had this weird belief that it helped conceal stomach rolls. The reason I eventually lost weight and got down to the solid 175 that I am now? I’m not gonna lie: I told everyone it was for health reasons, but I just really, really hated looking at myself. My double chin, my bulging stomach, jiggling thighs, flapping arms. Health be damned, I wanted to be skinny.

My daughter is in kindergarten now, and before she started, I’d made a conscious effort to not talk about, well, anything weight-related in front of her. But one day she sat at the kitchen table playing with Legos while I cooked supper, and I overheard her say, “Blah blah blah blah fat blah blah.” Yeah, I have no clue what she was actually talking about, but my first instinct was to throw the knife I was using into a running garbage disposal and start sobbing. Because yeah, I still kind of, sort of pretty much, totally hated myself.

But I didn’t do that. I didn’t say anything, actually. I’ve learned something really very valuable, and it’s something that I didn’t glean from a woman’s magazine or some inspiring blog on a weight loss website. It’s something I learned from my daughter. “Fat”? It’s just an adjective, nothing more than a descriptive word like tall or flat or ugly.

With that one lesson, I began to realize that we’d started the body image lessons much earlier on than I’d realized, and maybe I hadn’t fucked it up so bad after all. Here are some of the body image guidelines we have in our house:

1. There Are No Bad Foods

I mean, except for dairy. Not for any weird, food crusade reason, but my daughter and I just happen to both be lactose intolerant and my son can’t have dairy (or 10 other foods, but that’s another story) either. And even at that, cow milk isn’t bad; it’s just something we can’t eat, but it’s OK for other people.

You see, I don’t do well on diets. What do you mean I can’t eat carbs? Fuck you, you don’t know my life! Instead, we have “sometimes food.” Candy, dairy-free ice cream, chips, should we eat them all the time? Nah, they’re a sometimes food, so we have them sometimes. And when we have them, we enjoy them.

My daughter once asked if candy was a junk food. I answered that honestly, yeah, it is. When she said that she never wanted to eat candy again, I laughed. Come on, she’s 5 and there was bucket full of Halloween candy sitting on top of the fridge, like she could keep that promise. Once, she told me that she would always remember to wipe her butt, but I do the laundry, and I know all. “Baby,” I said, “I eat candy sometimes. I really like candy. It’s good. I just have it sometimes, and I’m still healthy. It’s a sometimes food.”

She quickly reversed her stance. I called it.

2. Exercise Is for Being Healthy

Obviously, losing over 100 pounds involves some amount of exercise—like, a lot. And my daughter, she really used to have a ton of questions about why I was exercising. It took a few tries to get the explanation down the best I could, but in short, for us exercise simply means staying healthy. We talked about how the body needs to move blah, blah, blah to stay healthy and active, and that since I work at the computer all day, I don’t get to move around like she does, so I have to make special time to do it.

“Is playing exercise?”

“Hell yeah, it is!” We slapped hands in a high five, and then she asked to sit motionless on the couch for 30 minutes and play video games. I totally told her yes, because you’re only 5 once. And also, little to her knowledge, afterwards she was going to get kicked outside to the backyard so that I could clean the floors. Hey, it’s not exile—you’re exercising!

3. Everyone Is Different

“Why is my friend’s skin so dark?” “Because she’s black.” “Why?” “Because everyone is different.”

“Why are there two mommies?” “Because they’re gay.” “Why?” “Because everyone is different.”

“Why is your butt so big?” Pause, compose self internally, force a smile—wait, no, go for the nonchalant face. “Because I have a big butt.” “Why?” “Because everyone is different.” There was another pause, then she patted my backside, and said, “I like your booty.” “You know what baby? I like it, too.”

We talk with each other about the things that we like. She likes her legs because they’re long and strong and help her run fast. I like my belly, because even though it’s kind of big and wobbly, my daughter and son used to be in there. My son likes his hair, because that also helps him run fast, and he’s 3, so shut up—it makes sense.

I used to be terrified of raising a daughter, scared that she would end up with the same self-hating body image problems that I had growing up. But you know what? I’m not so scared anymore.

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