Body shaming and little girls

Disclaimer: I don’t know if a mother’s body shaming has the same effect on sons as it does on daughters, but as always, I’m writing about my experience in this blog, so this post is about body shaming and my own impressionable little girl.

I know with certainty that research has shown negative effects of body shaming on girls. I also know personally the power of hearing your mother complain about her appearance, of watching her look at her reflection with critical, even hate-filled eyes. I’ve written a bit about my history with anorexia and bulimia as a teenager. I’m not blaming my mom – she was mostly blasé about her appearance. But she also complained about gaining weight and she went on diets. Back then I don’t think parents thought much about talking about dieting in front of their kids – it was before the wave of media campaigns for improving body image in girls. But that kind of thinking kind of gets engrained in your own inner voice as you grow up.

In university I got into feminist circles and I learned to love my body – and all bodies. I learned about fat shaming and the myths around fatness. I want my daughter to love herself no matter what body type she ends up with, and just as importantly, I don’t want her picking up prejudices about others based on body shape and size.

Which brings me to the present – swimming lessons with her Mo. My wife isn’t happy with her body right now. My wife also did not belong to the same feminist circles as I did in university. Although I constantly correct her for shaming her own body in front of our daughter, I don’t think she’s worried enough about it. As we get ready for swimming, she looks down at herself in disgust. She mutters (under her breath, but still audibly), “I’m so fat right now.” She talks about needing to lose weight every single day. When I correct her, I make sure to do it immediately and in front of Avery. I try to say things like “we’re all beautiful the way we’re made,” and “we’re kind to ourselves in this family, please don’t be mean to yourself.” I also try to compensate for my wife’s negative impressions by walking around naked and confidently when I get out of the shower, by happily letting my daughter lift up my shirt to point out my belly button, and by using positive affirmations, like “I love my body,” or just, “I like myself.” But I don’t really know what to say to correct the negative kind of thinking. Once Avery hears it, there’s nothing I can say to make her unhear it.

My wife will sometimes back pedal and say “I want to be healthy.” But I’m afraid the damage is done. I’m afraid Avery will just learn to use “being healthy” as an excuse for dieting if she one day starts to hate her body. Ugh, the thought of my daughter hating her body one day makes me so sad. It makes me angry.

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15 thoughts on “Body shaming and little girls

  1. One thing we do is try to just focus on the things our bodies can do, rather than how they look. Discussing that we’re grateful to ride bikes or take a long walk, or things like that. Even stuff as simple as congratulating jumping or running fast. Maybe when Mo says something negative, you can redirect and talk about some of the great things her body can do. I share the fear of giving my daughter any negative impression too!

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  2. Just a thought, is there maybe some kind of book out there that can help your wife learn about how to speak about her body image in a positive light around your daughter? Something she can read in the evenings after Avery has gone to bed and could maybe help her train her own mind to be more confident in what her body is like now but also help motivate her to make improvements without using the word “diet” or anything like that? I bet there are also some great kid books out there that she can read with Avery that are about body love for herself and others. You are doing a great job at working to change what she says around Avery, and I think eventually you won’t need to do it as your wife will become more conscious of her words. It might take Avery making a comment about her own body that will trigger your wife to realize the impact of her words. A friend of mine realized when she needed to change when she saw her 2 year old daughter standing in the mirror inspecting herself from all angles and making a face….just as she knew she had been doing every day before work. She said it was horrifying, even though she knew that her daughter likely didn’t really know what she was doing, but knew that one day she would, and that she was responsible for showing her that. One thing I do with my son, because I know that one day body shaming for him will happen too, is every night after brushing his teeth, I hold him and we look in the mirror and make faces and then I ask him where the most handsome boy in the world is. He then excitedly points at himself. I then ask where his beautiful mom is, and he eagerly points at me. It’s something small, but gets him firmly believing that he’s handsome and that his imperfect, jiggly body mom is beautiful.

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      • at Avery’s age, and even as she gets a bit older, books are definitely one of the best ways to get her to focus and learn new things. If you make it fun reading about it, then she for sure will get it!!

        i work on it with my son as i want him to be a caring and kind boy/teenager/man and to never judge a woman because she is large or small. i also know that because both me and my husband have “bigger bone” genetics, there is a good possibility he may have the same struggles growing up and i want him to know that no matter what, he’s incredible and handsome even if society tells him he isn’t. It’s pretty cool that we get to be the first people to instill these messages of positivity (is that even a word? it’s been a long day) into our little ones in hopes that their generation can be the one that changes the world of bullying and negative self image ❤

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    • It’s tough, because it’s almost an unconscious thing to talk down about ourselves. I’m hoping that just being aware of what can be harmful and trying our best to counteract that will be good enough.

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  3. Oh man. I’ve definitely had this topic on my mind since finding out I was going to have a girl. I have also been planning to blog about it. I feel ya. I want to be super conscious of how I talk about my own body and others around my daughter. Good luck with your wife, it’s sad that she got trapped in the cycle herself. Hopefully, together you can break it for your little girl.

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  4. This post is so good, and so important. Thank you for writing something like this. I am actually doing a project on body shaming and I was wondering if you are interested. I just can’t stand people today who body shame. That is disgusting to me and I have zero tolerance for those people which is why I am doing this project. I also wrote about stuff that matters to me. If you check my blog I’m sure you’ll notice that. Let me know if you are interested in the project

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