Introducing “I Love Your Body”: A radically compassionate body-image advice column for humans with love-hungry bodies
How do I teach my 6 year old daughter to love her body? My mother still openly criticizes her body, so I never had a good role model for body love. My response has been to say nothing about my own body, even though I struggle to accept it. Nothing is better than insults, right? But I’m realizing that my daughter needs more than silence. What can I do to help her love her body the way I wish I could love mine?
Mom Needs Love Too
Dear Mom Needs Love Too,
I want to give you big kudos. You’ve done something amazing.
You’ve interrupted the cycle of body hatred that we tend to pass on generation through generation, grandmother to daughter to grandchild. My mother, now in her 70s, just compared herself to a barnyard animal in front of me at dinner the other night. It’s a lifelong habit she may never break. Not everyone gets caught up in intergenerational body shame, but many of us do, and instead of passing on this painful legacy to your child, you’re stepping out of it. And that’s a big freaking deal. It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to NOT say out loud the insult that wells up when we stand naked in front of the mirror. You’re doing it, and that’s huge. And you’re right: saying nothing IS better than letting body shame fill the space between you and your daughter.
And your instincts are good. Your daughter does need more than silence.
Kids are sponges and they pick up on how we feel about ourselves without us realizing it. One of my students told me about her friend, a woman who was super careful to never say anything bad about her body in front of her child. One morning when she stepped off the scale and walked into her closet to dress, she watched as her three year old daughter hopped up on the scale, and without saying a word, started frowning and shaking her head, mirroring the same silent dismay the mom realized she’d just shown on her own face.
The point of this story is something you already know: silence is not enough. The point is not that from the moment that baby pops its head from between our legs we’ve somehow magically healed all of our own hang-ups. It’s fine that you feel ambivalently about your body.
The trick to being a good mom around body image isn’t that we are somehow perfectly at peace with our bodies to begin with, but that we share with our kids how we grapple with and overcome our issues, adding big doses of self-compassion and patience.
You get that teaching your daughter to love her body and learning to accept your own are not entirely separate problems. They’re intertwined.The more you can model self acceptance towards your body, the more likely it is she’ll be able to muster up some for herself. Together you can make it fun to support each other around taking care of your bodies with kindness and love.
The good news is that little kids often have a natural sense of how amazing their bodies are.
One of my body love heroes has long been a girl named Emily, my son’s preschool friend, who once said six magic words that inspired me to change how I treated my body for good. She said, “My body is my best friend.” Your daughter may not be able to say the same thing, but there’s probably some spark of it in her, and your job is to feed it more kindling and fuel and keep it from being smothered out.
Here’s one way to do that: try weekly (or daily) “I Love/Like My Body” parties. You can do it while getting ready in the morning, playing,resting, driving, waiting somewhere, before bedtime, anytime you have a few minutes together to talk and think. You start with something you like or love about your body: maybe “I like how strong my arms are,” or “I like that my belly helps keep me upright.” Let it be simple, or even silly, and true. Then ask her, “What do you like about your body?” You can prompt her with questions like, “What does your body help you do? What does your body like to do? When do you and your body have the most fun?”
It might be kind of awkward at first, but keep trying. Notice things that your body does during the day that you feel grateful for, and make a mental note to mention them during your next body love party. Notice when your daughter does things too, “Hey,your body let you climb that tree, that’s awesome!” And be ready for some spur of the moment body celebration.
You’re trying to make a habit of noticing good things about your body, which takes time and practice. I’m imagining a day not too long from now when your daughter turns to you and says, “Mommy, my body and I did something super cool today!” It’s gonna feel so good.
And one last thing… you’re doing a good job. Give yourself all the credit in the world for being conscious and kind in how you’re trying to parent this female child in a not entirely welcoming world, especially if and when you fall short. I see you. I acknowledge you. I thank you.
Yours in body love, Kimber Simpkins
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