I’ve struggled with my body image for most of my life. Even when I was young and athletic and super-fit, I struggled, because the battle was in my mind, not on a scale. I struggled when I went through early puberty while my friends were still sporting girlish figures. I struggled when my thighs were solid-but-muscular because, although I was a star soccer player, I didn’t want to look like one. I struggled when I put on pounds my junior year of high school due to depression, and I struggled when I got married at 19 to the world’s most amazing man because, amazing as he was, I was sure he’d wake up one day and realize he wasn’t attracted to me. I struggled so much that at 22 I found myself smack dab in the middle of an eating disorder. I thought it would fix everything, but when I was at my thinnest, my most fit, the struggle only intensified. I thought a 120-something number on my scale would end the struggle once and for all, but no.
Now I’m a 34-year-old mother of three. My body is soft where it once was hard, and I have a solid one-pack that jiggles when I jump. I’m pretty sure my knees sport some cellulite, and I haven’t seen a 120-something number on my scale in 14 years. The truth is, I still struggle, but not nearly as much as I used to. I think this is mainly due to my understanding that life is too short to waste it away on such temporary things.
That, and the fact that I have a nine-year-old daughter who doesn’t know that she’s quickly approaching a lion’s den she doesn’t even realize exists. She doesn’t know that the fight of her life is coming, like it or not, and that there’s an entire world standing armed and ready to tell her she’s not enough unless she looks like a fallen Disney child star.
I will not have it. Will you?
It’s easy to feel like we as mothers are fighting a losing battle when it comes to culture’s perspective on beauty. Sex sells, and it’s everywhere, demanding our daughters’ innocence in exchange for acceptance and affirmation. In a culture that prides itself on the advancements we’ve made in the area of women’s rights, it’s amazing how we simultaneously accept the overt sexualization of our girls. We want to be taken seriously and treated as men’s equals, yet we celebrate this:
We’re talking out of both sides of our mouths, and it’s disgusting.
So, HANDS OFF.
That’s what I’m here to tell the world respecting my daughter. Don’t you dare touch her. At nine, she’s everything I wish I had been as a kid: confident, outgoing, funny, kind. She’s approaching puberty, which will hit her early as it did me. She has tiny girl-breasts and dimples on her tummy. She’s fierce and strong and well on her way to earning her black belt in karate. She loves to play soccer, and she loves bread. She rides her bike and plays outside and eats popcorn while watching her favorite movies. She wears mismatched patterns and clothes that are comfy and she doesn’t have a care in the world.
If you, World, take that away from her, I’ll hunt you down I will be your worst nightmare.
I know I’m not the only mama who feels this way, the only one who isn’t willing to raise my daughter to settle for impossible standards that are somehow set by a distorted, broken world. There are many of us, an army even. And we have two choices when it comes to how we respond on behalf of our girls.
We can mope and moan and decry the injustices of society, resigning ourselves to raising daughters that will struggle with their bodies and their beauty as they grow up amidst the corruption and lies. We can feed the beast by funding their trashy clothing and spray tans and plastic surgery. We can “help” them fit in by making fashion forwardness the utmost priority. We can hate our own selves so loudly that we teach our daughters to believe beauty is only skin deep and that the worst thing in the world would be to grow up and look like Mom.
We can revolt. Together. We can celebrate our daughters’ uniqueness and individuality and innocence and effectively shut down the culture that desperately longs to prey on them. We can quit buying 11-year-olds sexy clothing and shorts that leave nothing to the imagination, and we can teach our girls that life is way more fun when you’re not overly concerned with appearances.
We can remind them that what’s most important is to be strong and healthy, because one day their able bodies are going to take them amazing places. Oh, and we can definitely quit using terms like skinny and fat and thigh gap. We can teach them that food is meant to nourish and equip, but that it’s also here to enjoy and indulge in every so often.
Can you even imagine if our daughters could maintain a healthy relationship with food?
We can remind them that it’s not a bad thing if boys aren’t interested in them right now, because boys are complicated and fickle and not worth their time until later in life. As a mom of two boys, I say this with some authority.
No, the world won’t destroy my daughter. I’m choosing to believe that she has what it takes to walk through her formidable years differently than I did, and I am going to be there to cheer her on, encouraging her to be her own, awesome, unique self all the way.