My battle with body image began in middle school. Because let’s face it: Mean Girls isn’t just a movie. For many middle school girls, it’s real life. In my sixth grade class, if your thighs touched, you were considered “fat” by your peers. My thighs touched, and an entire decade of depression, self destruction, and hatred towards my body ensued. Eventually, I sought professional treatment and found healing. I quit starving my body of food, and the weight I had so desperately feared came back on. (Fine. If I am being completely honest, too much of it came back on, and it’s yet to leave. Sigh.)
Throughout this process, I learned to love my body more for what it could do and less for what it looked like. And that love only grew once I became a mother. My body, even with its touching thighs, carried four babies and delivered them safely into this world! And while I still needed to work on finding the balance of a healthy lifestyle, I had assumed that my battle with body image was behind me. I had escaped. I was a bit banged up from the fight, but I had come out victorious! Then something happened that dragged me right back out onto the battlefield; only this time I wasn’t in the fight. I was merely a spectator, but the pain cut just as deep.
Then My Daughters Entered Middle School...
Their bodies began to change, and bullets of ugliness and demolished self esteem had the potential to surround from every side. I quickly realized I was not prepared to deal with the myriad of emotions that accompanied these changes. How was I, someone who struggled so greatly with body image during my own formative years, supposed to guide my daughters through this process with beauty and grace? I am by no means an expert, but here are some survival tips that I’ve learned along the way.
When it comes to talking to your daughter about body image, leave her body completely out of it. Instead, focus on helping her create an image she can be proud of. Ask her who she wants to BE. Ask her about her goals and what makes her feel the most alive. Compliment her character. Notice when she is helpful. Talk about how strong she is, how graceful, how hilarious, how smart. Make sure she knows that her smile lights up your world. If you must compliment a physical trait, focus on the traits she cannot control, such as the beautiful color of her hair. But never ever, ever talk about her size.
Focus on being healthy, instead of on being thin. Do your best to serve well balanced meals and healthy snacks, but don’t make sugar entirely off limits. Everything in moderation, but a cupcake is not to be feared. Instead, teach your daughter about portion control. Model it for her. (I’m working on this one.) Allow your daughter to eat when she is hungry and to stop when she is full, preferably from the very beginning. Teach your daughter the art of listening to her body. If treated well, it can be trusted.
Encourage movement. Our bodies were made to move! If competitive sports are your daughter’s thing, that’s awesome! But never forget that jumping on a trampoline, swimming, riding bikes, and taking a walk are just as beneficial. Movement doesn’t have to be a chore. Find what your daughter loves to do and encourage it.
Get off of the sidelines. Show your daughter what a healthy lifestyle looks like. Confession: I fail daily at this one, but I’m committed to doing better. Don’t talk about diets or dreading the scale. Don’t bemoan the way that your own body looks in front of your daughter. If you need to find health for yourself, do it. You deserve that. Your daughter deserves that. But don’t check out until your goals are reached. Take a walk with your daughter and talk about her dreams. Put on your swimsuit and take her to the pool. Your daughter needs you to be present far more than she needs you to look perfect.
Then something happened that dragged me right back out onto the battlefield; only this time I wasn’t in the fight. I was merely a spectator, but the pain cut just as deep.
You Are Her Safe Place...
The battle with body image can be brutal, and in some instances it might be necessary to seek the help of a professional. If your daughter is struggling with a particular health issue as it pertains to food, or if you are concerned about her weight or food tendencies for any reason, don’t hesitate to reach out. Do not assume it is a phase that will pass. But let the potentially hard or hurtful conversations come from a therapist or medical professional.
You are not your daughter’s conscience, health coach, or personal trainer. You are her safe place. Her cheerleader. Her mother.
Be that for her.
Contributing Sister Site and Author
A Texas native, Kendra moved to Wichita three years ago. Her husband is the CEO of a local children’s home, and their family is blessed to live on the campus where he works. Kendra is a SAHM who spends her days homeschooling her four small humans or locked in the bathroom when seventh grade math becomes more than she can bear. She is passionate about building community, her faith, and writing words that make a difference. Motherhood is her greatest adventure to date, and her survival secrets include a healthy dose of sarcasm and a tall glass of sweet tea.
Kendra is a contributor for Wichita Moms Blog, one of our Sister Sites.