A few years ago I was being interviewed on a podcast, at the time I was a personal fitness trainer, training women out of my garage. The interviewer asked me some questions that got me thinking.
She asked; how I was going to help my kids have a positive and healthy image about their bodies?
I have a 10- year-old boy and 7-year-old little girl. They are already in tune with the word skinny, and fat, (although it has never been intentionally uttered in our house.) Sis parades around the house with my bra wrapped around her tiny self and says, she can’t wait to be just like me one day.
The other day she squeezed my belly and said, “When people get old do their bellies get like this?” (nothing like a child to give it to you straight.) Then on another day, she asked if it was ok to be fat? Which she may have overheard on the playground.
SHE IS IN FIRST GRADE PEOPLE!
As much as I want to shield her from every painful judgmental comment, I can’t, but what I can help her do is love her body and know when to stick up for anyone else who is experiencing body shaming.
I have these little eyes watching constantly. What am I going to show them about honoring their days, their bodies in a healthy manner, when the world will throw so many different messages their way? Messages I don't always get to filter.
It was a great question and one I pondered after we had talked.
For those of you who have children, you might be wondering what are some ways I can make health and body image positive for my child? This is a tough one for sure.
Many of you came from families where negativity permeates from anything body related. You almost cringe when you hear people talk about getting in shape or staying healthy because it means something completely different to you.
It can mean something painful and filled with memories you can’t seem to shake.
Maybe you heard your mom talk to her girlfriends about how fat she was getting, or how she hated her legs in shorts. Maybe you saw the way she looked at herself in the mirror with a frown as she grabbed her belly. (Many of us are cringing right now because we are guilty of this same sort of thing). You are not alone.
But as a little girl your probably just saw was your MOM, with the beautiful clothes and jewelry, the beautiful bra, the make-up or clean face wearing woman you couldn't wait to be like. She was just mom in your eyes and she was gorgeous. You didn't even notice the cellulite that she stressed about. Or even if you noticed her squishy belly, it didn’t bother you.
Maybe your mom tried to give you “good advice” like don’t eat this or that, “it will make you overweight,” or “you better watch out everyone in our family gains weight if they just look at a cookie.”
Sometimes those things can seem helpful, and as parents, it is our job to model and teach healthy behavior, but we have to choose our words carefully because to pre-pubescent or newly pubescent girls and boys the wrong ones can sting for a long time. As a trainer we didn't just train our bodies, but sometimes we had to completely retrain our minds when it came to healthy behavior and how to view it. So many different emotions came up when someone stepped into my gym.
For those who have felt this, my heart breaks for your journey. Because it is a battle you have to face daily, one that I have seen won many times, but it a hard one fought. For those of you who may have been those moms who were critical and didn't even realize, you did not screw up your kid for life, you can always get on the phone and say; "I am sorry if I have made you feel like you were not beautiful, you are beautiful and I love you no matter what, I was just trying to give advice, " maybe it’s a conversation that says, "Help me as your mom show myself more kindness." I have seen this exact thing play out, and it changed everything for that mom and her child.
And for those of you who are new moms, maybe we can start to write a new narrative.
Here are a few simple things I am trying to be intentional about with my kids when it comes to taking care of both of our bodies.
Please hear me, I am no expert, I won’t always get it right, heck no.
I will say things without thinking and hurt feelings even if I have the best intentions, we aren't perfect after all. But I will always let them know I tried, I tried really hard to show them their bodies are beautiful and meant to be celebrated no matter what.
Here are a couple of things I am learning:
1. BE AN EXAMPLE
This is probably the toughest of all. One of my favorite lines is: "it’s more caught than taught." Let your son or daughter know how important it is to eat right and move your body. You don’t even need to have a long drawn out conversation about it, just let them see you do it. Don't let them see you dread going to the gym or getting sweaty. Let them see you have fun, look forward to it, because it is doing your body good. Let them in on the fun. It's keeping you active and around for the long haul. Let them see you have the discipline to do hard things that matter.
NOT because you HAVE to eat this or that BECAUSE you have to be skinny. Or YOU HAVE to workout to not get fat.
But change the narrative a bit. Discipline isn’t easy but it is an important part of life and journey.
New narrative: Taking care of me is just an extension of love for my children. It says I want to be around to enjoy you, play with you, be the best for you.
2. PRACTICE KINDNESS
Don’t let our littles hear us say unkind things about ourselves. If it is too mean or negative to say to someone else, don't say it to yourself. One day our daughters will be our age, and they might have heard us say our thighs were too big, or we didn’t like our tummy, (you know the one that didn’t go back flat after we had them.)
Most likely their body is going to look like ours at some point when they grow up. And if she knows we didn’t think some of our body parts were acceptable, she too will think her thighs unacceptable.
Let's teach our sons how to talk about a woman's body, to cherish and honor it, to stand up to the kind of locker room talk that degrades women to a mere object.
Many times the negative words just fly out of our mouth about ourselves, I know they have mine, I apologize and try better. Mama’s you are beautiful post-baby body and pre-baby body. Dad bod or not.
Don’t just be kind when you look the way you want, be kind to yourself when you are still in the transformation process. Your littles will pick up on it.
3. EXERCISE IS A GIFT
My kids are still young enough that exercising is just play to them. It’s a gift to be able to move. We have fun. We swing on bars, we do handstands, we chase and run. We make up crazy exercises. Moving our bodies is playful, joyful, like when we were kids and couldn't wait to get out for recess.
Is all exercise fun? NO…
Do we need to be disciplined to grind it out when we have goals to meet? Absolutely.
Do they need to see us do hard things? Yes and Yes!
My kids will understand hard work, and see it pay off, because they will watch their parents do this. They see me at the gym many days with a grimace on my face doing something that is really hard, but they see me do it anyways.
They seem me high-five my friends and cheer them to finish strong. They see us celebrating each others wins.
Because one day after their high school or college glory days are long gone, there will come a time where they have no coach and no organized sports, and they have to figure out why they still want to be healthy and whole.
I want them to remember:
I move my body because I can, its a gift and because it can be fun, it shows others I want to be around for the long haul.
It's what I do to honor my days with them.
I want them to go back to that memory of when Holden and I would race through the agility ladder or skip rope, or when sis and I would swing on the bars together and do cartwheels in the grass. So when they are 30 year- olds instead of looking at exercise begrudgingly, they see it as an extension of their whole beautiful self.