Tag Archives: 7 year old

How I Talk To My Daughter About Her Body

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. images-3

Advertisements

She Lives Another Day

I look at my 7 year old from across the table. She is talking a mile a minute, forgetting all her manners, bouncing from bum cheek to bum cheek and speaking nonsense. Her vocabulary is actually mighty good for 7 years, but she’s incorporated into her speech phrases that mean nothing but that carry intonation she’s picked up around her. A simple response like ‘you’re right, I never thought of it that way’ is turned into a ludicrous sentence like ‘that’s true, I’m dead’. It’s constant, the illogic. Ironically, this particular 7 year old is literal to a fault and if I say it’s 20 degrees outside and it’s actually 21 degrees, I get yelled at for ‘not telling me the truth!’. Her energy is spastic and emotional, her body is beginning to gangle, and her teeth are starting to fall out. I mean, what the fuck? How did I end up with this?

I wonder – as she has yet another breakdown, or tells another bad joke, or sings another long made up song, or has another need to tell me a story she’s told me a hundred times – I wonder how any of us made it out of our parent’s house alive. It’s amazing me to that we put them through the evil, repetitive, draining experience that 7 year olds do and that we didn’t get whacked off in the process. I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to an endless stream of knock knock jokes and pictured shoving her into on coming traffic. Just to make it stop. I don’t of course, and I shock myself by answering ‘who’s there?’ and spend the rest of the day wondering if she’s bewitched me somehow.

I have come to the conclusion that the only reason she is alive today and will thrive tomorrow, is because she was once an infant.

From the moment my son was born, my daughter has seen me coo, cuddle, rock, laugh, kiss, sway, nurse and verbally gush about her brother. She has seen me burst into tears when he hurt himself diving off the couch. I have a never ending supply of British accented phrases and nicknames for him; jingles and jokes; physical and emotional energy. His needs usually come first (don’t wake the baby! or too bad, your brother needs me right now as I saunter into his room where he cries mama in his crib) and hers a rational second. She has indeed asked me why I love him more than her.

I wondered if she had caught me in a shameful truth. I have thought about and observed myself from a hundred different angles. I have hovered over myself looking to see if my love stops at age 7. I looked to my actions toward the baby. They are exhausting, but they are gentle, giving and patient. From the cooing to the cheering to the gentle whispers of good night, they are the picture of love. When I look at my actions toward my daughter, I see a hardline for following rules and having manners, semi-intellectual conversations that quickly get confusing and end up in arguments, no energy for physical play-time, and abrupt kisses good night. The contrast of my outputting love towards my children has left me concerned that I am inept in some monumental way and I began searching for proof that my love for my daughter is just as strong now as it was then.

The answer is of course it is. Beneath the impatience about getting homework done and the insanity of her socks being everywhere, there are things I do with my 7 year old that the semi-functional 1 year old can’t even dream of. Singing to Fleetwood Mac at the top of our lungs in the car. Laughing hysterically in bed at a joke that strikes both of us as hilarious. Explaining and apologizing to each other after a fight and really feeling like we understand each other. Talking. Nurturing her independence. Watching her learn. At times I feel like my love for my daughter is in the silent art of observation – and that outside of still providing food, shelter and guidance for her, my joy comes in the form of simply being with her. Sometimes we get along, sometimes we do not.

It’s no wonder my daughter compares the time spent with her brother to the time spent with her. But I have come to see that without the gentle bond that begins to grow in infancy, there is perhaps not enough strength to keep that bond sure and tight during the tormenting years of age 7, 9, 15 and whatever other age-hurdle is waiting for us. The years spent responding to a child because it’s sick, tired, hungry – they must cement an emotional attachment that will last when the needs change. They must make deeper the trenches of unconditional mothering, even though the demands change over time. I can confidently assure my daughter that she is safe, warm and able to complain to me about how little I love her because she got everything her brother is getting when she was an infant. I can assure her that there will be eye rolling and yelling when he hits the absurd age of 7. And when she hurls yet another knock knock joke at me and I want to throttle her for having no repertoire of jokes to change things up a bit, I realize I have no one to blame but myself. I guess I just loved her too hard as an infant.

image-4