I was giving my baby boy a bath when I heard from the living room, my 3-year old daughter yell, “It’s fat!!” I grabbed a towel, got the baby out of the bathtub and ran into the living room, horrified to hear my daughter saying the word I hate. When I told my daughter that the word “fat” isn’t a word that I would like for her to use, I asked her what that word meant. She looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Mommy, I think it’s when you go fishing and catch a big, big fish.” I let out a huge sigh of relief. One more day of innocence.
There are many rules in my house. Rules that one would expect in a house of small children. Of course I bend some of our rules. Especially the rule that states each child should have no more than one popsicle a day. I inevitably let them have about 843 per day, if it will keep them outside. But there is one rule that I will never, ever, ever break. That is the use of the word, “fat”, specifically when speaking of your body or someone else’s body. It is such an ugly word. A demeaning word. A word that I don’t want running through my daughters’ heads.
Growing up, my parents did a pretty fantastic job raising two daughters who were (and still are) self-confident. Negative body image or lack of confidence was never much of an issue. It wasn’t that we were self-absorbed brats, we were just raised with a true value in our sense of self. We were encouraged to do well in school, to be kind to others, and to work incredibly hard at the activities we were involved in (for me, basketball and music). I was never the most popular or prettiest girl. I never wore name brands or drove a fancy car, but I accepted the person I was and the body I was given. Of course, I wanted to be beautiful and fashionable and popular, but let’s just be honest, I was a big dork.
Fast forward a decade (and then some) and I’m staring at two, beautiful daughters who I am trying to raise to be confident, self-accepting women one day. Here are the rules of thumb I live by.
- Never criticize your body or the way you look. Every woman has things about their bodies that they would like to be different. Maybe Gisele Bundchen doesn’t, but I’m pretty sure that the rest of us do. When you are standing in the mirror hitting the dislike button on the way you look, there are little eyes watching you, soaking in every word you are either saying or not saying. Loathing is normal, especially when you’re having a bad day. But reign it in. Get a hold of yourself. Remember, what you think about yourself, they think about themselves.
- Live an active and fun lifestyle. Sitting around on the couch all day is boring. Getting up and having a dance party, playing tag, going for a walk or playing soccer in the back yard is fun. I think it’s great for your kids to know that you work out in a gym (the appropriate amount of course – excessiveness is damaging), but for them to see you having fun with activity is a great way to set positive patterns for their own lives.
- Encourage your child to join an activity, in which they can work hard. When your kid commits to an activity, in an age-appropriate manner, encourage them to work hard and be their best. Working towards a goal with a positive attitude, whether they are the star player or riding the bench, will help your child’s confidence and self-worth grow in leaps and bounds.
- Let them see you eat healthy… but let them see you eat a burger, too! Fix healthy meals for your family. Eat that healthy meal together. Help them to love healthy foods. At the same time, don’t obsess in front of them over a diet. Don’t even use the word diet. Eat healthy. Enjoy food. But on the same token, let them see you indulge (every once in a while of course) in something not so healthy. And don’t ever say, “I shouldn’t be eating this”, or ,”this is not a part of my diet.” Enjoy it! Work out and eat healthy later. Let your child see you enjoy food.
- Be a shining example for your child. Treat people kindly. Enjoy life. Be active. Eat well. Don’t talk about another person’s body shape. Tell people they look beautiful. Say thank you. Smile. Don’t obsess about exercise. Don’t obsess about a diet. And if you do obsess about diet and exercise, don’t ever do it in front of your child. Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Accept your imperfections. Don’t ever describe yourself or another person as fat. Love your child. Be their best and shining example. You are the person who will have the most impact on their life after all.
What are things that you do to help your child (especially our daughters) to be confident and self-accepting in an image obsessed world?