The great conversations with my 9 year old have spanned all sorts of topics, but the other night our discussion centered around body image. She has been noticing that her body is bigger than most other girls her age-- not that she is "fat", just bigger. She is taller and is not the string bean that so many girls her age seem to be. The worry is settling in, however, that she IS fat. Media messages are seeping in, as well, which is frustrating and difficult to control. The best I can hope to do is talk about them with my girls.
We have already been talking about eating healthy-- not about dieting, or restricting calories, but about making wise food choices and also about stopping eating when you are full (or no longer hungry). Good eaters are prevalent on both sides of my daughters' lineage. We come from a long line of folks who are card carrying members of the Clean Your Plate club, so this stuff is essential for our family to talk about.
It is important for my daughters to understand that skinny does not mean healthy. And that our goal shouldn't be skinny, although skinny can definitely be nice looking. Our goal should be strength and health. In my discussion the other night with my 9 year old we talked about how mommy isn't a toothpick, but I am strong and healthy. And that I was never, and will never, be a toothpick, because my body structure doesn't allow for that, and neither does my daughters'.
When I was having the conversation with my daughter about body size I looked up the rosters of some WNBA teams. I showed her all of these tall and strong women-- and every player I looked up who was as tall or taller than me weighed as much as or more than I did. I showed her how those women weren't super skinny. I pointed out how muscular their legs and arms were and to be that strong and good at basketball you can't be stick thin.
And here is the thing: my daughters will more than likely grow up to have a very similar body type to me-- and I want to make it very clear to them that I love my body, I care about my body, and I work hard to keep it healthy and strong. My body is capable of so much more than looking perfect in certain clothes. They do not hear me talk about being fat, or hating my body, or worrying about how much I weigh. They do see me exercising and eating well (and involving them in exercising and eating well). They do see me being comfortable in my skin and appreciating the strength I have developed through hard work. It is my hope that these messages are heard loud and clear by my girls.
Of course, it isn't about one conversation, or hoping that simply silently leading by example, is going to be enough. It's also about lots of conversations, it's about involving my daughters in eating well and moving their bodies. It's about encouraging and supporting them. It's also about knowing that we don't live in a bubble, and that negative messages from other kids, or the media, or in who knows where else, will find their way in, and we can handle that together.
Side note: Two books my 9 year old and I have enjoyed reading together are: The Care and Keeping of You and The "What's Happening to My Body?" Book for Girls. (these aren't affiliate links)
How have you handled body image issues with your daughter?