Laine Lipsky is a peaceful-parenting coach, master teacher, speaker, former elite athlete, and mother of two spirited children. Find out more about Laine online (www.lainelipsky.com) or reach her through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/lainelipskyevents/).
People have already started commenting on my daughter's body; she is 9 years old. I won't say what kind of comments people make, because the fact is that whether they are positive or negative, I worry about the impact such freely given commentary has on her psyche and developing sense of body image. I worry about all girls (and women) in this regard.
Last summer, on the cusp of turning 9, I observed my daughter looking at herself longer than usual in the mirror. I watched as she inhaled and exhaled to make her belly inflate and flatten. I watched her suck in her belly so hard that her ribs looked like they might poke through her skin. Having struggled with my own food and body issues growing up, watching her do this triggered a flood of memories and fears.
I got myself in check by doing a quick-calming breathing exercise I use whenever I am triggered and before I engage with my children. As a parent coach, I teach people this technique because it stops us from blindly reacting to our kids and gives us a chance to respond instead. (Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 8. It takes about 30 seconds to do 3 rounds and it totally works.)
I intentionally shuffled my feet noisily so she would be aware I was standing in the doorjamb. Still young enough to not feel entirely self-conscious, she continued her inhale-exhale routine when she saw me. I was relieved by her nonchalance; if her reaction had been to quickly hide what she was doing, it might have been a red flag.
She smiled at me, I smiled back and casually asked, "What are you doing?" She looked at me and said, "I didn't know I had so many ribs." Whew, I thought, doesn't seem like self-judgment … not yet.
She turned 9 soon after and, since then, it seems that the comments about her body are happening more often, more freely, and more specifically. One parent actually opined, in the friendliest way, on my daughter's "shape." A boy in her class said he liked her because of her butt. I am not kidding.
My daughter is clearly being exposed to judgment about her body and I find that troubling on several levels, not the least of which is that she's getting a cultural message that it's normal for people to comment on other people's bodies. While this message is not new to any of us adults, it is entirely new to every girl who experiences it for the first time, the first few times, until the newness wears off and eventually, sadly, the thick skin develops. The shame thrives.
I don't want to wait around for that to happen. So here's what I do: I actively fight fire with fire. I fill her up with a sense of knowing her own body to build shame resilience. I figure if she has a strong sense of her own body and engages in positive self-talk habitually, she will be less affected when others comment. I'm banking on this, in fact. Here's how I put in into action:
3 questions I ask my daughter to help her build a positive body image:
1. How did your body work for you today?
I like this question because it encourages her to reflect on her day and the ways in which she asks her body to perform for her. The focus is on her experience and cultivating appreciation for how her body does so much.
2. Is your body doing what you want it to do?
This question also provides a chance for self-reflection and a great opportunity to discuss the importance of self-care, including healthy food, exercise, hydration, stress, and sleep.
3. How is your body feeling on the inside?
I enjoy asking this question because it builds positive body image from the inside out. Also, when we put attention on our inner-physical state, we practice mindfulness.
I hope these questions help you develop positive conversations with your girls (and boys!) about how we can love our bodies at every stage of our lives.
Check out Project Dad, a television series about the joy of family:
Cover photo: Shutterstock / Anamaria Mejia