How I Talk to My Daughter About Her Body
An article went viral a while back. Then it went viral again and I had to sit through the comments of praise and revelation all over again. It was called ‘How To Talk to Your Daughter About her Body’. The second sentence of the popular article was ‘Don’t Talk to Your Daughter About her Body’.
I don’t take blunt instructions from strangers very well, even if they get published on Huffington Post. I acknowledge their advice the way I acknowledge the barking comments from the lady on the street who tells me my son is underdressed/overdressed/uncomfortable/too tired as I walk by. I ignore it. When this article first crossed my news feed, my first thought was ‘don’t tell me how to raise my daughter.’ I read the article – it was too tempting a title – and it made me feel like crap. Now, I have a strict rule as a mother than any material that shakes my confidence in my parenting style is better suited for the give away pile. Maybe I read it on the day I told my daughter she looked stunning in her new dress and felt guilty for having given her a compliment, or maybe it was that the article was a bit preachy and if I wasn’t a follower I would be sent to mommy hell.
Black and white doesn’t exist in my human experience. To me, the nuances and muddiness is what makes life so complex. It’s what provides the beauty in my world, and as I look around, extremes are often what get us into trouble.
My daughter is a bright 7 year old who attends school. She has friends who are from Canada, others from Sudan. She speaks french, plays sports and watches too much Netflix. She is a typical kid and as a parent, I am sensitive to her experiences. I am cognitive of her watching me put on make-up. I remember the first time I let her watch me wax my legs. The truth is, life happens, whether you address it or not. In my opinion the more open you are, the better the happening is. The safer. The more authentic. As my daughter has grown into her little girl self, she has come across friends with different approaches to body image, she has watched movies rated PG 13 and she has had questions. To avoid or spin those questions so that I am only addressing one aspect of those questions (the health or pure function of her body) is doing her a disservice. I am not arming her with the knowledge and wherewithal to make good choices, to know there are many choices and to respect the choices of others. The truth is, those questions include the frankness of talking about her body. Healthily. Functionally. Socially.
That’s the beef, right? That there is only benefit in talking to our girls about the health and function of their bodies, but not about their social place. I whole heartily disagree with that, and I can only explain why from my own experience. I can only explain from my 32 years of living as a woman, from having female friends, from having a daughter, from having a son. I disagree because it’s not whole. My human experience has been wholly social, and we accept that we are a social species. We need each other. We engage with each other. We compare, we celebrate we criticize each other. We always have and we always will. Health is about balance, and that balance includes how we function socially. When my daughter comes home and feels embarrassed that the other kids were making fun of her leg hair, that’s a social issue. It’s a social issue but it intrinsically involves her body, so what am I going to do? Not talk about how others will evaluate her as grows up? When she’s a teenager it will be about her breasts and when she’s a young woman it will be about something else. We measure ourselves against others and we can sit and wish for a time and place that that doesn’t exist, but I suspect you will be waiting for a long time. Maybe about as long as I will be waiting for the article to come out ‘How To Talk To Your Son About His Body’. Ain’t gonna happen.
No matter what I do, my daughter will develop a relationship with her physical body, the way I have- the way we all have. She will develop a relationship with her body and the way it functions socially in the world. I owe her the ability to know that and be aware of the times it will effect her. She will have friends who have unhealthy body image and sexuality perspectives and friends with healthy ones. She will meet boys who have been educated on the topic and boys who have not. She will live through fashion trends, trendy revelations from new studies published in the most prestigious of journals and she will still continue to have a relationship with her body. The way she relates to her body will highly influence how she chooses to use her mind, body and soul in this world. So I work hard to make sure she knows there is equal weight in the knowledge about how to eat right, how to play strong, and how to feel comfortable in her skin. In her body. That hopefully she feels beautiful in. And sexy. And nuanced. And strong. And know that those things are okay. Important. Part of being a woman. (gasp! I’m raising a girl to feel like and celebrate being a woman?! I’m allowed to do that nowadays? Well, I’m gonna raise my son up to be about the best damn man you ever met, so you can bet your butt my daughter is going to be something fierce of a fine woman)
Compliments about a girls’s body and appearance are not the problem. Using compliments to fill a void in her self esteem is a problem. That is not what I’m doing, and it’s not what I’m advocating.
I don’t validate material that is written with the intention to prove a point, one point and only that point. Especially if it’s not written in I statements. I can stomach blogs and articles that are confessionals, that run so personally that what they say is so clearly their own experience that it had to be written. I don’t feel like those articles are trying to convert me, or scold me for doing it differently. My intention with this piece is to acknowledge for myself and maybe reassure others that if you’re talking to your daughter about her body, telling her that’s beautiful, giving her handfuls of compliments that are not about her diet but are just off the cuff observations about how awesome her body is, that maybe you’re not the worst parent out there. Maybe you’re not making things worse, but actually making things better. By raising confident, aware girls who will know how to talk about their bodies and know that how they use them in their life is a tool and an asset and that it’s okay to be conscious of that.
I’m not a stranger giving you advice. I’m a stranger sharing with you how I do it. You do it how you like. But if you publish an article instructing me to do it your way, I will likely blog about it after it goes viral.