So, yes, two days ago, I started a clean eating program. I need to kick-start some healthier eating, and drop a few pounds that have crept on over the past couple of years. I don’t look bad. I’m not overweight. I’m uncomfortable.
I don’t remember a time I didn’t have body image issues along with self-esteem issues. I recall “measuring” my width with my hands when I was maybe 9 years old and deciding I was too thick. Whatever. Looking back, I realize I had problems. I was always a thin girl. And I didn’t really have to work to stay that way. I was naturally active, and I looked the part. I am more muscular than skinny. Those issues didn’t improve with time until well after college. Even now, if I let them, those voices take over. I will frequently catch myself negotiating my food and exercise in my head, as in, “Okay, I ate that – argh! Why did I eat that??? – so now I have to not eat the rest of the day, or go on a 7 mile run tomorrow instead of a 5 mile run.” Not entirely healthy thinking, nor an entirely healthy relationship with food and exercise. Trust me, I’m very aware and manage it all pretty well anymore.
Here’s my deal – I don’t want my daughter to have my issues. I’ve made a determined effort to never talk about her weight or body size. She’s a healthy, fit, extremely active girl. The only thing I do talk about her with is eating in moderation. So yes, have that pizza, but let’s also mix in some healthy snacks. Go ahead and have some garlic bread, but probably not four pieces in one sitting. I try to be mindful of what I say and how I say it. Teenage girls are a nightmare navigation as it is. I don’t need her thinking she isn’t good enough in her appearance. I don’t need her dealing with any weight, food, or exercise issues. Her dance teachers are awesome with the girls on this topic. Dancers need to eat. Dancers need to eat healthfully.
Yesterday, on the way to the studio, she asked me about this program I’m on, and why I’m on it. I told her I had gotten into some bad habits and this will help me break them. It will also help me develop better habits. It incorporates a workout program as well, not that I particularly need a push in that direction. I’m an avid exerciser. We talked about it for a few minutes, and then she asked, “So it’s not a weight thing, but just a healthy eating thing?” I honestly told her I had gained some pounds I wanted to take off, not because I don’t think I look good enough, but because I was uncomfortable, and I knew I’d let some unhealthy habits creep in. She looked at me quietly for a moment, assessing. I didn’t want to talk about this. I didn’t want her to pick up on any negative body image issues I may have. I’ve made a conscious effort the last year or so not to talk about how I feel about the way I currently look in front of her. I don’t let her see me get on the scale. I don’t let her see me pinch the hips and belly. I firmly believe girls mirror what they see. If she sees or hears me doing any of that, she will think it’s okay, normal, and will begin to question her own appearance. So I reiterated I just need a push to healthier, cleaner eating habits and this is helping me do that.
Then we got home from dance. And lovely spouse….some of the first words out of his mouth were, “your fat dad.” Now, Spouse isn’t the least bit fat. He struggles to keep weight on. So we know he was being facetious, but I flinched. I hate hearing that word “fat.” It takes me back to being a teenager, a woman in my early twenties, and using that word to describe myself so often, even when I barely hovered at three digits for my weight. In my mind I thought, “Don’t use the F word in front of her!” I don’t want her to hear it. I especially don’t want her to hear us apply it to ourselves.
This parenting thing is a mine-field. You want to build their self-esteem and help them have a positive body image, but at the same time, you don’t want to put too much emphasis on looks at all. I do call her “beautiful girl” on occasion, but I also talk about her intelligence, her leadership skills, the way she stands up for others, the way she steps up to help in any given situation, the way she cheers her friends, classmates, and siblings on, her joy, her dancing, her caring, her huge heart. Those are the things that matter more than whatever a stupid scale might say. But don’t say the “F” word in front of her.