5 Rules for Respecting my Body

Every parent my husband and I admire agrees that the key to successful discipline is having a few rules that are very clear and are consistently enforced. So I made a set of rules for myself that I hope will set me on the path to passing on a healthy body image to my daughter.

I feel that for me, these rules are absolutely essential to combat all the sneaky, small ways that our culture has filled my head full of lies — the lies that my worth lies in my physical attractiveness, that my body and face have to fit a specific set of standards in order to be attractive, and that if I don’t fit the industry standard of beauty, I’ll be settling for a less full life.

I know that these lies made it into my everyday life throughout my childhood and into my teens, and I know that I’m going to have to be counter-cultural in order to help my daughter overcome the onslaught of pressure to be skinny, sexy and gorgeous by the world’s narrow definition.

Recently, I’ve seen friends sharing through social media several articles with excellent messages about how and why mamas (and dads!) pass on their own thoughts and feelings about their physical appearance to their children. These articles got me thinking of all the ways that I received the message that my body wasn’t good enough.

I can remember becoming self-conscious about my weight at age 14 when I heard another girl at school complain about what a fat cow she was… at a solid 5 lbs less than my body weight. At 5 feet 4 inches, I weighed 123 pounds and played team sports pretty much all year long. Yet I decided that I needed to go on a diet. Not only did I not understand that I had no need to go on a diet, I also had no idea how to go about dieting in a healthy way. Can you see how this was a potentially dangerous situation?

Throughout high school and college, I encountered beautiful, healthy girls my age who struggled with eating disorders and poor body image. Girls skinnier than I was were skipping meals, going on extreme diets and even taking diet pills so they could fit into a certain dress size. Unfortunately, I understand why. And I’m guessing that you have an idea, too.

Mamas (and dads), whatever your feelings about your physical appearance, I encourage you to think about the messages you send to both your sons and your daughters with your words and actions. Because our darling little sponges are soaking it in and learning from it how they should view themselves and others. My daughter is going to get plenty of pressure and hear plenty of lies outside of our home. But she will NOT be hearing them at home from her parents.

To this end, my husband and I have both agreed to follow these five rules:

1. Don’t complain about weight gain or loss. We can both keep track of what we weigh and set healthy goals for ourselves, but we will not make negative comments about our bodies to our kids or to each other.

2. No refusing to be in photos because we’re unhappy with the way we look. I want my kids to have memories of a mama who was fully present and who enjoyed life with them. On a related note, I have also promised to stop obsessively trying to control what photos of me make it onto social media sites. Also read about Cari’s challenge to get more mamas in front of the camera.

3. Accept compliments and don’t contradict them. This means that if someone tells me I’m looking great, I try not to respond by saying “Well, I feel like a giant planet and I hate how none of my clothes fit right now.” Anyone else guilty of doing this without thinking about it, or is it just me?

4. No commenting on (or complaining about) features we wish we could change. Stretch marks, big noses, abundant freckles, large feet, wrinkles…whatever it is you want to erase from photos of yourself, stop mentioning it in front of your kids. Because until you tell them it’s a problem, they’re going to think it’s perfectly normal and beautiful.

5. Overall, less commenting on other people’s appearances, including our daughter’s. This means shifting our focus to complimenting positive character traits and behaviors and away from complimenting (or censuring) physical appearances. For example, we’ll replace “so-and-so is such a pretty girl” with “so-and-so is so kind to her little brother!”

This doesn’t mean we can never say anything about how someone looks, and we’ll certainly have discussions about whether or not certain foods and habits are healthy. We want to teach our kids to make good choices, but we don’t want to teach them to worry about things they can’t control.

I’m hoping that following these rules will not only result in a healthier body image for my daughter, but will also help me learn to be grateful for and to respect my own body. It’s never too late to re-train our minds.

What do you think? Would you agree to rules like these? Are there any you would add?

Remember, mama, your children think you are the most beautiful woman in the world. And they’re right.

4 Responses to 5 Rules for Respecting my Body

  1. Excellent article! I especially like your suggestion of replacing “so and so is so pretty” with “so and so is so kind.” I often see the suggestion to compliment children’s intelligence instead of looks- but when you think about it, this can be just as damaging by sending the message that only smart people are worthwhile. I love the emphasis here on kindness as a compliment-worthy trait.

  2. These are amazing rules everyone needs to live by. It takes a lot of practice and I’m doing my best to stick to them

  3. I LOVE these rules. I’ve heard a lot of negative things about pregnancy, weight gain, stretch marks ect.. and I just think we need to savor every minute of our pregnancy and embrace every change that it brings. we are not suppose to all have TV bodies, we are REAL women.

  4. We try to constantly remind our daughter that the most beautiful thing she can have/do is a friendly smile. We talk a lot about how beauty is canceled by pouting and anger (Judy Rogers’ “Isabelle is a Pig” song from the book of Proverbs is REALLY helpful!).

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