How to Talk about Body

Some weeks ago, a post was circulating around Facebook. A lot of people praised it as a very moving, good post. People praised it for saying things that needed to be said. However, in my opinion, a close look shows that it took a dichotomy and swung too far to one side to avoid the other.

The whole post can be found here.

The post says, How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.”

I don’t agree. Talk to your daughter about her body. Tell her she’s beautiful AND teach her how it works. Teach her that she’s beautiful even if her body doesn’t work.

“Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.”

Do say something. Gaining a lot of weight can be unhealthy. Losing a lot of weight can be unhealthy. A mother should be looking out for her daughter’s best interests, including her physical health.

“If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead: ‘You look so healthy!’ is a great one. Or how about, ‘You’re looking so strong.’ ‘I can see how happy you are — you’re glowing.’ Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.”

Yes, it is good to compliment your daughter on how she is rather than how she looks. Being healthy and strong is good. But if you never compliment her on her body, what will she feel about that? Don’t leave her to find the answer somewhere else, because our culture is full of voices, mostly poisonous, clamoring to fill that gap.

“Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.”

Why not? I’m all for not spreading mean, comparing comments. But we should be celebrating each other! Why not tell another woman she’s looking great, that that haircut fits her so well, that she’s stunning in that dress? One woman’s beauty does not threaten another’s. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that one woman’s unique beauty highlights another’s unique beauty. What do you find in an art museum – all the same painting, or all different paintings?

The post goes on to talk about teaching your daughter about kindness towards others and yourself, not labeling food as “good” or “bad,” and encouraging physical activity for the sake of mental release,  challenge, and love. This is all pretty spot on. However, even in that, the post says, “Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with.”

I disagree. Love of sports has to be cultivated sometimes, and it certainly ebbs and flows. There will be the days she won’t want to go to practice. There might be the year that she thinks she hates soccer or field hockey or whatever her sport is. Surely sometimes a child really doesn’t like a sport, and they shouldn’t be made to pursue it. But other times, a child needs to learn the discipline of doing something they don’t like, or something they don’t like momentarily. This can lead to either a child who can better deal with real life – where we often have to do things we don’t like – and/or a child whose love for a sports is deeper for having stood through trial.

“Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.”

This is good, to a point. We shouldn’t be quantifying our bodies. We should focus on what they can do. Do I hate my body sometimes? Honestly, yes. It’s something I’m working to overcome. Some of the best moments are after a run, or after a race, where I’ve pushed myself. In those moments, I don’t care how I look because I know what I can do.

However, we can’t take this too far. If my body is only good for what it can do, what happens when it fails?  What happens to the girl who’s in a car accident and quadriplegic, who can’t run “run a marathon if she wants to”? What about the old lady who’s joints bother her walking from one room to the next? Are they any less beautiful for lacking in capacity?

There is no doubt that our culture has problems with body image. We can obsess over it – feeling bad about ourselves when we don’t match an ideal in a magazine, comparing ourselves to others, carefully calculating calories to manufacture a body that might not be healthy but looks the way we’ve conceived of as “perfect.” However, the answer to this problem is not to flee from talk of beauty, but to reclaim it.

Tell your daughter she’s beautiful. Tell her she’s strong. Teach her to be selfless, to love her body, to love other people’s bodies, to not compare, to challenge herself, to do the hard thing, to laugh, to cry, and to celebrate life.

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