Growing up in a weight obsessed culture was a constant battle for me. Not only did I get labeled as “gorda” (fat), but I was faced with a never ending series of comments and judgements about my weight.
Throughout my life, I have been anywhere from a size 8 to a size 14 allowing people many opportunities to comment about the changes in my size – “You’ve gained so much weight!” or “You look so good. How did you lose all the weight?!”
In college, I loathed my visits home because I knew that with every “fat” comment I received my self-hatred and insecurity would grow. I never wanted to go to the movies or the mall in my hometown because I might run into people I know. I just didn’t have the energy or willpower to smile and pretend like their comments were okay and didn’t cut deep.
But I wasn’t safe at home either. Family stopping by to see me would immediately talk about my weight. And when I say immediately, I mean that it was the first thing out of their mouths, as if it hadn’t even occurred to me that I had gained weight. I do occasionally pass by a mirror. And I do notice when I have to go up a size in clothing, but thanks for the memo.
My own parents focused more on my weight in college than my grades. My father’s jokes centered on my size, while my mother seemed to always offer her services to help me lose weight. “Nutrisystem is on sale! Want me to buy it for you?” she would exclaim in random phone calls like it was the most natural thing in the world. They were never aware of my crippling self-esteem. They never saw the countless tears I shed or the way I tried to cover my body with layers of clothing.
At my slimmest I was a size 8 and worked out 4-5 hours a day due to sports, but still my grandfather would say, “You need to lose 10 more pounds and then you’ll be okay. ” You see, this wasn’t just a random weight obsession that started with my parents. This was a cycle that was continuing through my family and in our culture.
When she was growing up, my mother was the “gorda” in her family, despite having been slim and fit. So as an adult she couldn’t help but focus on diets, cutting carbs, and helping me reach the “right” weight. No one ever told her that you are more than just a number on a scale or a clothing tag; that your worth and beauty are not tied to the size of your waist or the fullness of your cheeks.
Now that I am a new aunt, my biggest fear is that this cycle will continue with my niece and the future generations of women. Because of this, I want to call attention to this issue. I want to scream from the rooftops that beauty comes in all sizes, that we are more than just our appearance, and that it’s okay to look different.
So today I thought I would share some tips on how to talk to girls about their bodies:
1. Don’t talk about her weight, ever.
It would be much better to compliment her on her talents or personality than to focus on her appearance. Girls are much more than just pretty little things. They are smart, funny, athletic, and more. Encourage the growth of her mind and interests instead of focusing on her beauty.
If you must compliment her appearance, don’t mention her size. Don’t compliment her on losing weight or focus on her weight gain. Instead, tell her she looks strong or happy. Always remember to nourish her self-esteem.
2. Don’t focus on your own weight.
Now I’m not saying that you should avoid eating healthy or working out, but you should avoid talking negatively about your weight or food in front of young girls. They will pick up on this and develop your same insecurities.
Here’s a video of a poem by Lily Myers entitled “Shrinking Women” that can explain this so much better than I can:
3. Encourage girls to be active.
Encourage them to run or work out because it’s a good stress reliever. Encourage them to play sports because it’s fun and they can learn about leadership and teamwork. Encourage them to go hiking, swimming, or surfing because it’s nice to enjoy nature. Don’t encourage them to be active because they need to lose that baby fat.
4. Eat healthy.
Don’t count calories or focus on good or bad food. Promote eating healthy because the food is delicious and will give you energy. This will help develop good eating habits without developing a negative or warped relationship with food.
It took me a long time to feel comfortable in my own skin, but now, at the age of 28, I own it! Most days. So should you! And we should not let the next generation of women grow up feeling like they have to fit some absurd standard of beauty and weight. Eff that noise! Let’s teach them to be proud, confident and self-assured women.
How do you talk to your daughters or nieces about their bodies? Should anything be added to this list? Leave me a comment and let me know!