I was on a podcast with my friend Kari. She was asking me some questions that got me thinking. She asked how I was going to help my kids have a positive and healthy image about their bodies.
At the time of the question I had an 8-year-old boy and a 4-year-old little girl. They are already in tune with the word "skinny," (although it has never been uttered in my house). Sis parades around the house with my bra wrapped around her tiny self and says she can’t wait to be just like me one day. I have these little eyes watching constantly.
What am I going to show them about honoring their days with their bodies in a healthy manner, when the world will throw so many different messages their way? It was a great question and one I pondered after we had talked.
This past season of my life it was my profession to come alongside people and teach them to show kindness to their bodies through exercise, what they eat, and what messages they let seep into their minds. I was in workout clothes all day, since I trained others in the mornings and quite frankly am just too lazy to get out of my yoga pants, you feel me right? The good old athleisure wear trend has been my greatest friend.
My kids would hear me talk and research different workouts for people I train, post videos, share eating tips. It was my job to teach others how to live a lifestyle of health and wholeness.
So I had to be extra careful how I worded things, and continue to tell them why we approach our health and our bodies the way we do. For those of you who have children, you might be wondering what are some ways I can make health and body image positive for my child.
I have worked with so many women who come from families where negativity permeates anything body-talk related. They would almost cringe when they would hear people talk about getting in shape or staying healthy, because it meant something completely different to them. It wasn’t taught with a positive message but was something more painful and filled with stressful memories.
Maybe they heard their mom talk to her girlfriends about how fat she was, or how she hated her legs in shorts. Maybe they saw the way their mom looked at herself in the mirror with a frown or look of disgust. All of these are real stories. I am sure you could add your own.
But when they were little girls, all these women just saw their mom, with the beautiful clothes and jewelry, the bra or no bra, the makeup or no makeup. They never saw a size, just their beautiful and perfect mom, the one they couldn't wait to be like. They didn't ever notice the cellulite that she stressed about or the extra pounds she willed herself not to gain.
And maybe you were a part of a family where your parents or loved ones tried to give you “good advice” like don’t eat this or that, it will make you overweight, or you better watch out — everyone in our family gains pounds if they just look at a cookie. Sometimes those things can seem helpful, but to a pre-pubescent or newly pubescent girl it can sting for a long time. I have worked with teens for 15 years and hear these stories often into adulthood. Many of you felt shame from others for the way your body looked and for those who have felt this sting my heart breaks for your journey. Because it is a battle you face constantly — one that I have seen won many times, but a hard one fought — I want to wrap my arms around you and whisper you are worthy, every inch of you.
For those of you who may have been those moms who were critical and didn't even realize it, you did not screw up your kid for life. You can always get on the phone and say, "I am sorry if I have made you feel like you were not beautiful. You are beautiful and I love you no matter what." Maybe it’s a conversation that says, "Help me as your mom to show myself more kindness." There is still time.
And for those of you who are new moms, maybe we can start to write a different story.
Here are a few simple things I am trying to be intentional about with my kids when it comes to taking care of their bodies. Who knows, I am probably going to screw them up in some way or fashion, but I will always let them know I tried, tried real hard, to show them their bodies are beautiful and meant to be celebrated no matter what.
Be an Example
This is probably the toughest of all. One of my favorite lines is: "It’s more caught than taught." Let your son or daughter know how important it is to eat right and move your body. You don’t even need to have a long drawn out conversation about it, just let them see you do it. Don't let them see you dread going to the gym or getting sweaty. Let them see you have fun, look forward to it, because it is doing your body good. It's keeping you active and around for the long haul. It isn’t about calorie counting or calories you are burning. You are being healthy, and taking care of you is just an extension of love for your children.
Don’t let our littles hear us say unkind things about ourselves. If it is too mean or negative to say to your best friend, don't say it to yourself. One day our daughters will be our age, and they might have heard us say our thighs were too big, or we didn’t like our tummy. Most likely their body is going to look like ours at some point when they grow up. And if she knows we didn’t think some of our body parts were acceptable, she too will think her thighs unacceptable. Let's teach our sons how to talk about a woman's body, to cherish and honor it, to stand up to the kind of locker room talk that degrades women to a mere object.
Many times the negative words just fly out of our mouth about ourselves. I know they have mine, and I apologize and try better. Mamas, you are beautiful post-baby body and pre-baby body. Don’t just be kind when you look the way you want, be kind to yourself on every part of your journey. Let your little ones hear you be kind to yourself. Tell your kids what you like about your body, why you like your legs or arms, your tummy, your hair. I challenge us all the next time our kids see us looking in the mirror to SAY OUT LOUD something we like about ourselves. (I have never done this, but I am going to this week.) Nothing like writing an article to keep you accountable.
Exercise Is PLAY
My kids are still young enough that exercising is just play to them. We have fun. We swing on bars, we do handstands, we chase and run. We make up crazy exercises. Moving our bodies is playful, joyful, like when we were kids and couldn't wait to get out for recess.
Is all exercise fun? NO…
Do we need discipline to grind it out when we have goals to meet? Absolutely.
But you know what? Most likely my kids will have coaches and practices that will help them understand the importance of consistency and discipline. They will understand hard work, and see it pay off. I will echo those coaches' mindsets to the mountain tops. There is a time and place for the hard work ethic. But one day after their high school or college glory days are long gone, there will come a time they have no coach, and no organized sports, and they have to figure out why they would still move that body.
I want them to remember: I move my body because I can, it’s a gift, it keeps me healthy, it’s an extension of love for myself. It's what I do to honor my days. I want them to go back to that memory of when my son Holden and I would race through the agility ladder or skip rope, or when Sis and I would swing on the bars together and do cartwheels in the grass. So when they are 30-year-olds instead of looking at exercise begrudgingly, they see it as an extension of their whole self. They see it in a positive light. So parents, try to make it fun, make it casual, go out and play yourself. You might just surprise yourself how fun it really is!