When my daughter Elby was five, she was already scared of getting fat. One day she came home from a day at camp completely freaked out about soda and she announced that she can never ever, ever drink it again. Apparently a “coach” had told all the kids that drinking soda will give you a big tummy and that a big tummy is bad. Whoa. I get trying to teach our children good eating habits and encouraging proper nutrition but as long as you’re not feeding your kid Cheetos and Gummy Worms for breakfast and you’re making sure they’re getting exercise and not just laying on the couch all day, a little soda here and there is not going to give them a big tummy. So this was bad information.
But worse than that was putting the fear into my Kindergartner of getting fat.
I grew up battling the fear that my normal Jewish hips and butt were unacceptable and undesirable and from my experience that battle is exhausting, unwinnable and ultimately poisons a person’s ability to ever wear a bathing suit without throwing on a little sarong over it. Because of this, the moment the ultrasound tech told me I would be having a girl I knew I would do anything in my power to make sure my daughter doesn’t live with that same fear. I get that it’s nearly impossible to keep our girls from worrying about their bodies unless you’re willing to outlaw TV, videos, basically all pop culture and maybe get in a time machine to travel back to the 1600’s when being referred to as “Rubenesque” was the ultimate compliment.
But I do believe that what they hear at home can help or hurt their fledgling body image. So with this in mind, I made it a rule to never speak negatively about my body in front of my kids. Instead I dance around the house naked. I shake my booty! I sing along to Baby’s Got Back loud and proud. I tell my kids that I think big butts are beeyootiful (small butts are beautiful too but given my kids’ genes they will need the first message more)! I tell my kids how much I love their bodies! I suggest eating healthy food to give energy, to feed their brains and because it’s delicious. I don’t mention calories. I never, ever refer to a food as fattening. I limit sweets because “too much sugar makes you not feel so good” (which is true -although it never stops me). Yet sometimes I do tell them they can go right ahead and have a few more cookies or a second piece of cake. Fuck it, they’re kids!
A friend of mine came over recently and refused a piece of pizza because as she put it, “I’m too fat to live right now.” She said it right in front of all three of my girls. I was horrified, but I also knew that she grew up with a mom who was constantly on a fad diet, constantly discussing her weight, constantly saying she couldn’t leave the house until she lost twenty pounds. Is it any wonder my friend picked up the baton and ran with it? It also made me realize how common it is to hear women say stuff like this about themselves out loud without even thinking. And so I had to implement the rule for company as well.
The good news is that since I made the resolve to never badmouth my body in front of my children, I pretty much stopped doing it to myself away from them and I even cut way down on doing it to myself in my head. I’m not perfect and once in awhile I still hear myself thinking that I’m fat (fluorescent lighting in a TJ Maxx dressing room with do it) but overall, the rule has improved my life as well.
I guess what I’m saying is if you plan to come to my house, plan to get naked and dance!
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