When my eldest daughter was in kindergarten, she came home from school one day and asked me why she had a pudgy tummy. She proceeded to point to a very thin lamp base in my bedroom and said, “I want to be skinny just like that.” I will never forget that moment — partly because I was horrified but mostly because it became the catalyst for the kind of role model I was to become for my girls around body image and self-acceptance.
During this time, it became clear to me that there was nothing I could do about what others would say to my daughter about her body. I realized I couldn’t predict what effects would be long-lasting versus what she would brush off.
And so, in my attempt to gain some control back, I adopted some absolutes around my own behaviors as they related to my body. I figured if I could practice what I preach, perhaps they would follow suit?
- If I talk about my body, I’m mindful of my word choice. I use words like healthy and strong. I try to focus on all the things my body can do, not on what it looks like.
- I try to model gentleness in the way I care for myself. There are little ways to do this: choosing scented body creams and shower gels, using essential oils in our diffusers and on our bodies, resting our bodies when they are tired, etc.
- I eat. I choose healthy foods and unhealthy ones too. I love my sweets. I take second helpings. I try to model moderation. I remind my girls that food is the fuel our bodies needs to work: the better we feed it, the better it works for us.
- I don’t talk about carbs, fat or calories. Instead I try to provide my family with balanced meals and snacks that speak for themselves.
- I drink water. I encourage my family to drink it too. I even buy fun and fancy cups to keep water accessible all day.
- I move my body. I take the stairs instead of the escalator. I ride my bike to the store. We walk the dog. I workout. I sweat.
- I never say “I am fat,” or “I feel fat,” in front of them.
- If I’m watching what I eat, I don’t call it dieting. In fact, I don’t call it anything.
- I try to stay away from using the word perfect at all.
- I don’t talk about other people’s bodies, only my own.
- When I need a break or feel grouchy, I go workout or take a walk. When I get home, I tell anyone who is listening how much better I feel.
- I ask my husband to brush the girls’ hair when they get out of the shower. Listening to his compliments as he brushes their hair also plays an important role in my girls’ developing sense of self.
Ultimately I want my girls to feel full of themselves. I want them to take care of their bodies, to appreciate the work it does for them, and to feel confident about all the unique ways their bodies are developing. And in the meantime, I will continue to do my part to be the best role model I can be.
– Andree Palmgren is a volunteer with the Beaumont Parenting Program and mom of four kids ages 14, 12, 8 and 4.