By Sarah Foote
“I’m proud of my body,” I told her, “I grew two humans, that’s pretty remarkable.”
My daughter Nora is four years old and she loves to ask questions. It’s my job to give all the honest answers, in an age appropriate fashion. Last week, when Nora asked me why I grew babies in my belly and daddy didn’t, I gave a short anatomy lesson. One question led to another and I soon found myself looking my daughter in the eye and telling her that I'm proud of my body.
I’m proud of my body; I was shocked to hear myself say it. At 34 years old, I believe that’s the first time I’ve said those words aloud. I’ve always struggled with my body image -- no matter what condition I’m in, I seem to find a way to feel bad about it. I don't like feeling this way about my body and it’s not how I want Nora to feel about hers.
Telling Nora I’m proud of my body felt empowering and honest. When I think logically about it, I’m blown away by what my body has allowed me to do during my life. I’ve run thousands of miles, climbed mountains, swam in oceans, chased snakes, and thrown snowballs. I’ve rafted rivers, jumped off boulders, given piggyback rides, and cartwheeled at countless parks. And I’ve grown two humans -- my kids. Hell yes I'm proud.
Right now, Nora is young enough to simply want to physically be able to keep up with her brother and do things independently -- climb trees, balance on rocks to cross a creek, pull herself onto a rope swing. She doesn’t seem concerned with how her body looks yet, but I fear that will change.
It’s no secret, young girls are inundated with messages from a body-image obsessed culture; unreasonable demands come from all angles. Unfortunately, no matter how careful we are as parents, we can’t shelter our kids from the existence of these societal expectations. Movies emphasize female subordinate roles, dolls are made with impossible measurements, relatives make offhand comments about dieting or trying to lose weight, and strangers at the grocery store never miss an opportunity to tell a little girl she’s “so cute.” The message is clear: you are supposed to look and act a certain way.
It’s too much. Of course, the messages sent to my daughter are different from those sent to my son. There is an expectation that Nora is sweet and quiet. People don’t often offer her high fives or fist bumps and no one dares her to jump from high places or challenges her to complete an obstacle course. Those interactions are saved for Lewis, my son.
Both of my kids have noticed. Nora, at the age of four, has confronted a dad at the park: “I can balance on that log, too.” And Lewis, age six, has sadly turned to me at the grocery store and asked, “Do I look cute in my clothes, mama?”
I run five or six days a week and to my kids that’s a normal routine. At home, we talk a lot about food and fueling our bodies. Nora asks what foods will make her muscles stronger, what will make her taller. Three days before her fourth birthday, I beamed when Nora said to me, “When I’m four I will probably be big enough to run a marathon with you, Mama.” My goal is to show both my kids that I can do hard things and they can do hard things too.
I want to say this to all young girls: you have permission to be unabashedly proud of your body. Don’t worry about what you should look like, instead focus on what you want to do and who you wish to be.
Nora, you are a badass.