They say “Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.”
One of my biggest fears when I found out I would be having a little girl was body image. Recalling my own struggles growing up surrounding body image, I feared that my daughter would eventually be consumed with how her body was perceived by others. Was she too short? Was she too fat? Was her skin not clear or her nose too big? It made me sad to recall these same questions in my youth and even sadder when I think of how much harder these younger generations have it. They are exposed to more “celebrities” constantly snapping pictures of their perfectly made up faces and scantily clad beach bodies. They get to grow up in a world where it’s standard to take a picture of yourself and plaster it all over social media for your friends to see and get the desired approval.
This type of thought process, the need to be accepted, however, is part of growing up. No matter when or where we experienced those apprehensive adolescent years, they proved character building. These experiences are a rite of passage. They help us realize that the important things in life extend far beyond a pretty picture…..or at least they are meant to. But not at age 4!
I’ve heard a toddler tell her mother that she’s fat because she likes to eat. I’ve heard a 6 year old ask if her stomach was too big for a two piece bathing suit. A daughter of a friend of mine apologized to her for “not being perfect”. Even my own 3 (almost 4) year old has told me that she’s too short. I recalled a conversation I had earlier in Target with a stranger who helped me reach a cereal box off the top shelf. I had said I couldn’t get the box because I was “too short”. Even in that simple statement, my daughter picked it up and regurgitated it back to me. Talk about a sponge. The words that leave my mouth are no longer just throw out in the universe and forgotten, they are absorbed by my tiny sidekick and become the voice that she hears in her inner monologue.
As a fitness instructor and someone who has recovered from an eating disorder, I know that the message to our children is very important. We don’t use the word “fat” around our home, we use the word “fit”. My daughter knows that mommy doesn’t go to the gym to lose weight. Mommy goes to be strong. So after she eats her meals or runs around outside, she flexes her muscles and asks me if her muscles are “poppin'”. We focus on having a pretty attitude versus always wanting to look pretty. Sometimes we play dress up and wear make up. Sometimes it’s a comfy sweatsuit in the backyard kind of day. And either one is wonderful. (This one is a struggle for my daughter who currently only wants to wear pink dresses).
I know that eventually, she will go out and face many of the same challenges we all have. But I want to make sure that’s not now. Not before she even understands it. And certainly not because it’s something I’ve created with the words I’ve said or the actions I’ve done. She’s my little imitator. While I might not be tall or perfect, for her, I will always try to be great.