I’ve struggled with my weight and self-esteem my whole life, and I want better for my daughter. She’s only a year and a half old right now, but I am already doing everything I can to help her feel good about her body.
It actually started very early, as our pediatrician was not happy with how slowly my Bella gained weight as a baby (yes, one can be in the “0th" percentile). For months, I wrestled with breastfeeding and supplementing and obsessively weighing her, trying to do the right thing and fend off criticism. It was an entirely bizarre experience to be rooting for the number on the scale to go up! Whenever possible, I praised Bella’s strong arms and legs, kissed her toes, and admired her round tummy. I wanted her to know she was perfect, no matter what any doctor said.
I’ve continued that campaign even as she came roaring back up the weight charts (it turns out she just has a crazy metabolism — she actually eats more than I do at this point!). I still tell her how strong she is and how much I like tickling her round tummy. I want to fill her up with positive messages before she goes out into the world and starts consuming the media that will try to make her smaller.
That media isn’t the only thing giving her messages about women’s bodies, though. I need to do everything possible to project confidence and acceptance of my own body, or none of this will matter. I try to smile when she sees me look in the mirror, and give myself compliments, even if they feel false (“Wow, I look great! I love my hair today!”). It feels odd to make such bold claims, even in the privacy of our home. Our society does not like it when women affirm their own beauty.
This is especially tricky at the moment, since I am trying to lose weight for in anticipation for my next pregnancy. My instinct when I see results on the scale is to cheer, but that’s not what I want to model for my daughter. I don’t want her moods to ever depend on that number, so I try to stay neutral no matter what I see.
It can feel strange to put on this front, even disingenuous. Shouldn’t I be myself? Kids have great bullshit detectors — it’s possible Bella will notice inconsistencies as she grows older, despite my efforts. It may spark some difficult conversations. But I have to think it is worth it. All parents want better for their kids. If I can instill a sense of confidence in her body, that will be a powerful gift for Bella as she matures.
I would love for her physical appearance to not matter all, of course. I want my daughter to be valued for who she is: for her heart, intellect, and humor. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and my job is to prepare her for whatever she encounters. I tell her every day how smart she is and praise how hard she tries to master skills — and I tell her how wonderful her body is for helping her do those things.