Last night my daughter and I had a hard conversation. One that I feel is too young to have with a five year old. The conversation was about body image.
We had a wonderful evening after school, filled with a dance class, a barbecue to enjoy the nice weather, and I watched as the neighbor kids played with mine afterwards. It was bath night. I was getting my daughter ready for her the bath and I caught her looking at herself in the full length mirror. She asked in her sweet little voice, her big, blue eyes looking into mine, “mama, why is my belly big?” Talk about a knife to the heart!
I told her that it’s because it’s just how she’s made. She sucked in her little belly to make her look thinner in the mirror and said, “this is how I want to look.” After a few questions, I asked her why she thought she needed to look like that. MacKenna told me that they read a book in school that day about how people’s bodies all look different.
I’m sure that this was a well-intended lesson for the class on how everyone is different or unique, but I had never heard the word thinner come out of my child’s mouth until last night. I do not use fat or thin to describe people. We have had the conversation about size over the last couple of weeks as my kids noticed that my breasts are smaller than my sister’s. (She concluded that mine were smaller because I breastfed them for a while and I don’t have milk in there any more. Ha!) Kids are curious and want to understand the world around them. I get that.
My little girl and I talked for a few minutes about how bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us are tall, and some people are short. We eat healthy foods that give us energy to play for a long time. We talked about how strong she was. How fast she could run. That she has a fantastic laugh that makes me smile. That her little legs could go on a 2 mile bike ride to the park without issue. That the shape of our body does not determine our beauty. That the measure of beauty is in fact what is in our hearts. She makes other people feel loved because she is loving and kind.
I asked her if she thought I was beautiful. Thankfully she said yes. So, I lifted up my shirt to show her that my belly wasn’t thin and that sucking in my belly didn’t make me any more or less beautiful. After this, we told one another what she says often, you’re beautiful just the way you are. Maybe I went overboard on the examples with her but I felt like it was important to cover it all instead of dismissing her question with a quick answer. Parenting is tricky!
I have personally struggled in the past with having a positive self-image, which went into full effect my freshman year of college with my first boyfriend. He always had images of these very thin, muscular models around. I was athletic but not ripped like these women. These images made me feel as though somehow I was not enough. I struggled with disordered eating and working out at least three hours a day thinking that if I looked a certain way the man of my dreams would sweep me off my feet because I was “worthy”. I wish I could go back and slap some sense into my twenty something self!
Now that I’m in my thirties, being ripped and being outwardly beautiful in someone else’s eyes is not my thing. I’ve worked on self-love and acceptance. I’ve made peace with myself and love me for who I am as a person. I do not feel the need to impress anyone and am gentler on myself. I eat to be healthy. I am active because I enjoy it. Pushing my body makes me feel good, and eases stress. I don’t stand in the mirror and scrutinize myself. I love myself and know that I am worthy of love.
Our beauty isn’t attached to a magical number on a scale. I know that my worth – her worth, or anyone else’s for that matter- isn’t attached to how our bodies look.
Kids see and hear more than we realize. I have no idea if I handled her questions in the right way but I hope I did.
If you’ve had this conversation with your child, I’d love to hear how you handled it. Be sure to comment below!