These are the body-buzz-words of our lives. Sorting through all of these image-related sound bites and messages is really difficult to do when everywhere you look the human body is on display for critique, by everyone.
One thing’s for sure though: If you are a Mom and you have a daughter, you want her to have a healthy self-image. Like me, though, you may be struggling with how to do that when you have your own personal body-image struggles. So I decided to write down some things I wanted my daughter to know and believe about herself before she’s blindsided with the confusion of puberty and societal expectations. What emerged was a letter as much to myself as to her. I hope you’ll share with your beautiful girls, too.
1. Your body is beautiful
I’m sure you have noticed how different all of our bodies look. Every one of them is beautiful. In nature a thriving environment contains a variety of colors and textures, just look at a garden. There are lots of different shapes, sizes, and colors. When we step back and take it all in it’s perfect, and it is the same with people. We are all different colors, shapes, sizes, and varieties. When you step back and look at the human race, together, the variety of bodies and colors and shapes are beautiful. You, my darling girl, are beautiful, just as you are.
2. Your body is yours
Your body belongs to you. You are in charge of its care and you are also in charge of who touches you, how, and when. If you don’t want to hug, shake hands, or give someone a kiss, you don’t have to. Period. If the way someone is touching you is making you uncomfortable for any reason at all, you don’t need anyone’s permission to tell them to stop immediately. There is no need to feel ashamed or keep secrets if this happens. If anyone tells you otherwise, please tell me or another trusted adult. I trust you to take care of yourself. You can trust me to always listen.
3. Your body is changing all the time
From the time you were born, your body has been changing every day little-by-little. This will continue throughout your life. Change is totally normal and a natural part of growing up. My body changes every day, too. There isn’t anyone you know whose body isn’t changing every day.
4. Your body won’t always look the way you want it to
Sometimes our bodies change in ways we don’t like. There are things we wish looked different. That’s okay. When I was growing up I felt this way too, and I felt it again when I had babies. Sometimes, when things don’t look the way we want, it can make us sad or uncomfortable. When I feel this way, I remind myself of all the amazing things my body can do and has done and I feel much better about things that don’t look quite how I want because, hey, my body is always changing.
5. Your body functions best when it’s had time to move vigorously
Did you know that your body works better when it has had time to play hard, and get really physically tired? When you run or play hard, you body responds to that by producing lots of good energy, chemicals, and feelings. Everything works better when you run, play, swim, and jump a lot. So go outside and run until you are sweaty and out of breath. It might feel hard at first but it’s also fun and will help you to feel happy and positive about things in your life. Because your body is built this way, if it doesn’t get enough movement, you might feel cranky, or antsy, or even like getting into trouble. Pay attention to it and listen to what it is telling you.
6. Your body is an incredible machine, but it needs fuel.
In our world, there are some amazing and beautiful things. Amazing above all else is the human body. It is a brilliant, natural machine. Every function of your body works in perfect harmony with everything else. And when you do get sick or something goes wrong, your body will almost always fix it. Do you remember how your cuts heal themselves and sniffles go away?
To do all these amazing things, though, your body needs the right kind of fuel to keep it going. Let’s do an experiment. Spend a whole day eating junk food. How do you feel at the end of the day? Then spend a whole day eating healthy fats and proteins. How do you feel? If you are really listening, your body will send you messages about what works best for it. If you feel tired, moody, grumpy, there is a good chance your body isn’t getting what it needs to work best.
7. Your body is important
Your body is an important part of who you are. That is why it is important to take care of it so that it will last a long time and let you do the fun things you want to do. As you get older you will have more freedom to choose how you style your clothes, hair, jewelry, and things like that. This is important because these things can become a way of expressing your thoughts, feelings, likes, and preferences. Mommy and Daddy enjoy and watching you develop your personal style and we will try very hard to respect your choices. Your body and your style are important BUT…
8. Your body isn’t the MOST important
Even though your body is very important, there is something far more important. How your body looks with and without clothes is not nearly as important as figuring out who you are on the inside and expressing that to the world. So think about the things that you like and the things that you believe in. Think about your feelings and your beliefs and what you might want to be when you grow up. Do you like to write, draw, sing, paint, act, pray? It’s really important to spend time thinking about things like this because they help you find out who you are on the inside.
9. Sometimes people say things about other people’s bodies
It is natural for us to make observations about how other people look. You may start to hear your friends making comments about how people look on the outside. They may talk about your body or someone else’s, and some of that talk will be kind, but sometimes mean. It is important to remember that these opinions belong to them and don’t have to matter to you. The most important thing that matters is how YOU feel about your body. If people say mean things, it’s probably because no one told them the things I am telling you. You can help your friends to understand how wonderful our bodies are by sharing these things with them. You can help them to see their bodies as unique and beautiful, just like yours.