A few months ago, I tucked my 11 year old daughter into bed for the night. She was crying and when I asked her why, she said, “I don’t like the way I look.” It caught me off guard I guess, because I could feel myself tearing up. Being the ever so brave mom that I am (not so much), I told her that she was being silly and that actually quite stupid since she looks exactly like me, and well….like duh! I was kidding of course. I make jokes when I don’t know what else to say. It’s my way of buying time I guess. Anyway, I reassured her that she was beautiful and smart and amazing and that she shouldn’t doubt that, even if somedays it feels really hard not to. I went to my own bed and cried myself to sleep. I felt like the worst parent on earth. I’ve spent so much of my time telling her she’s so smart and beautiful and praising her every step of the way. Why didn’t she just believe me? As it turns out, it has nothing to do with what I’m telling her she is or isn’t. It has everything to do with what she’s seeing me think and say about myself. I realized that all the negative self-talk I had about yammering on about myself may be leaking into her brain and making her think that kind of insanity was normal. She was watching me dieting and working out non-stop. Talking about calories and how much more weight I had to lose. I spent the entire winter behaving that way, and to be honest, that’s not the first time I’ve been an idiot like that. Of course behaving like an exercise addicted, food restricted asshole did have it’s pay offs. I had abs for all of 7 days… Until I went on vacation and had a beer and enjoyed my life like a normal person. It TOTALLY wasn’t worth it either, because in the end, I’ll always be me, and I kinda like me just the way I am. Flabby, holding a beer, big smile and horrendously loud laugh, as I plow my way through a big plate of fish tacos. Whatever, I’m over it. I understand a lot more than my daughter. I know reality and I’m comfortable with knowing that yes, I can have a beach body, but only if I want to spend my life caring about it. It turns out, I don’t care. I don’t care in the least. Nice abs don’t make you interesting or fun to be around. They sure as hell don’t make you any friends worth spending time with. So, I want her to know that. But I also want her to know that she should exercise and try to eat properly (unless you get invited out for tacos and beer. Then you must skip the gym and hit the fiesta. Life lessons girl, life lessons).
For months now, I’ve watched her be conscious of her body and of what other people are thinking about her. I see her looking down at herself when she’s in a bathing suit, grabbing things to cover herself. I don’t know what to say when I see it. Everything I say to her these days is wrong or hurtful. It’s actually heartbreaking when you feel like you can’t get through to a person you love so much. So, instead of over-explaining or lecturing her about body image, I’m just trying to be positive about my own body. When she pulls her arm across her stomach to cover herself while we’re lounging on the boat, I take my shirt off and sit there in my bikini top without flinching. We all have rolls when we sit down, Natalie!!! Let me show you. This isn’t at all easy for me to do, but I’ll do it for her. I don’t want her to spend her life hating her body the way I did. She’s got more important things to spend her time on….like making herself happy.
Right now I want to tell her that she’s just at that awkward pre-pubescent stage right before her growth spurt, and that she will soon blossom into a beautiful swan (gag), but that’s not right either. I don’t know what to say to her anymore. I don’t think it will be words that help her, but my actions and the actions of the women she sees in her life. I will continue running everyday, unless I’m tired. I will do sit-ups and weights when I feel like it (which is never because I’d rather be outside). I’ll eat properly, until someone says poutine. I will wear the clothes I want to wear regardless of trend (graphic tees on a grown woman are cool, right?), and I will hang out with women who love and accept themselves for who they are. Most of all though, I will be genuinely happy with the person I am, flaws and all. Here’s hoping that rubs off on my girl.
I took this picture of her the other night. I’d caption it: When did she turn into a pre-teen? Man, I’m old.