Raising Girls and Body Image

Raising Girls is a joy.  I really mean it.  My girls are full of energy, creative, caring, empathetic, and generally tons of fun.  Raising girls is also tricky.  (I am sure raising boys is tricky as well, but my little man is only four and I don’t have a list of the tricky parts yet.) Trying to navigate what the media screams is “normal” against what our family believes is “normal” and appropriate is a constant battle.  The even trickier part is navigating my own thoughts and words regarding myself versus the thoughts and words I want to hear from my children’s mouths.  When it comes to body image in particular, leading by example is harder than it seems.

The first time I made the decision to go on a diet, I was 12 years old. No one told me I needed to change my appearance; I came up with the idea all on my own. Starting at 12, I thought a lot about how I looked and how much I weighed. For my middle school years, I wore over-sized clothes.  I just felt better in clothes that were WAY TOO BIG.  The 90’s fashion trends including short skirts and crop tops held absolutely no appeal.  I will just cover all this up thank you very much.  I drove my mother crazy, because wearing clothes that actually fit is a good move, a logical choice. Instead I told her I needed bigger sizes and baggier options. I was swimming in my clothes, hiding is more accurate.

Fast forward to my high school and college days, I began to yo-yo with my weight.  I like food, I eat fast, food is comforting – the whole nine yards.   Starting in college, I became a champion yo-yo.  Gain, lose, gain, lose – this has been my regular pattern for about two decades. I am an expert at losing 20-30 pounds.  I have a formula, do this, this and this and it will come off.  Sure the diets are super restrictive, but they work. That is they did work until this year.  I turned 40 and everything changed.  But change, although hard, can be a good thing

I noticed the scale inching up and none of my clothes fitting in a comfortable manner and flipped the switch in my brain that says, “get this weight off now.” I started living on protein shakes and salad.  No weight loss. I exercised 5-6 days a week. No weight loss.  I tried intermittent fasting taking my calories all the way down to 500 two days a week.  Nothing! During this time I started to really listen to things my girls were saying: “Mom, how come all you eat is salad? What’s in that shake anyway? Can’t you just eat lunch? What are you trying to do anyway?” It hit me like a ton of bricks that I was setting a horrible example for my girls to follow.  My actions were not modeling a healthy relationship with food.  My actions were not modeling a healthy relationship with my own self-image.

It is time to flip the switch again, but this time to a lifestyle where health and sustainability are the focus.  I want my girls to see me model healthy food choices.  I want them to see me experience joy with my food without over indulgence. I want them to see that the focus is on keeping my body strong and full of energy, not on some arbitrary number on the scale. Exercise and food should not be a punishment or a reward. The main stream media does a good job of showing my girls what is “ideal” in the eyes of the world, I plan to show them the true ideal comes from what they see when they look in the mirror.  Our true ideal self has more to do with how we feel and how we treat those around us and less about how we look and what we wear. I still hate crop tops almost three decades later and of course my 12 year old daughter thinks they are the greatest piece of clothing ever invented. I guess torturing your mother is a right of passage!

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