Body image issues are so rampant, it’s almost become something that women don’t talk about much in conversation. Sure, there’s media messages about “body positivity,” and that’s wonderful! But among 30 something and 40 something women, it seems to be a topic that we all should have conquered in our 20’s. But that’s just not the case. It’s a lifelong process of learning to love the bodies we’ve been given. And that process doesn’t stop at some magical age.
We all know the horrible statistics on eating disorders. It’s something we’ve all been through, in some way, shape, or form, either with ourselves or with a loved one. So when we grow up and leave girlhood behind, it seems these issues should also be left behind. But it’s just not that simple. We carry certain insecurities and self doubt with us for a very long time.
When I became a mother of 5 children, which includes 3 daughters, I developed a newfound appreciation of what body image or body positivity really means. First, there is the incredible gift of having a body that is capable of carrying, birthing, and nursing 5 children. And how about gaining and losing 50 pounds or so five times?! But I’ve come to realize the real gift comes even later. When I watch my 5 year old daughter run around in her bathing suit, it is beautiful to see how she is truly fully secure in her self. Here’s what my daughters have taught me about body image.
1. You are born with a certain body type. Stop trying to change that.
This is the biggest realization I’ve had as a mother of 3 daughters. I have three daughters, all born from the same two parents. One of my daughters has a fairly “average” body type; not skinny, not thick, just average, whatever that means. Another daughter has always been extremely thin. As a baby, she was always below the growth chart. It was a really difficult struggle and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone!
Then there’s another daughter who has a thicker body type. It’s hard to say if that will stick with her throughout her lifetime. But it’s very clear that this girl came out of the womb with this body type. It’s almost taboo to describe a five year old’s body. But for the sake of this article, I will say she has thick thighs, chubby little arms, and a belly that’s perfect to tickle! And of course, it almost goes without saying, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!
Each one of my daughters were born with completely different body types. And each one if absolutely beautiful. Wouldn’t it seem crazy to try to change any of them? What if I told one of them, “You should really gain some weight in your legs.” Or if I said, “You need to watch the size of your midsection” to my 5 year old. If it sounds so ridiculous to say to them, why does it sound so annoyingly normal to say to adults?
It’s important to have a healthy lifestyle. But it’s also important to understand that you may just never look like your friend, or the person in your workout video. Or the person in the magazine. And you were never intended to! My 5 year old daughter couldn’t have the itty bitty tiny thighs of my 8 year old daughter, no matter what she does. And who would want her to? She is beautiful and unique, and wonderfully made. And so are you.
2. Eat when you’re hungry. And eat what you want.
Of course, there are limits to the advice in this header. I don’t let my children eat 10 lollipops at a time. I make them eat fruits and veggies before they have a snack (most of the time). But I also try hard to let them listen to their bodies. One of my children seems to only be able to handle so much dairy at one time. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she is lactose intolerant. But she knows when to stop drinking her cup of milk. And so I let her stop.
Even my children who love desserts most can recognize when they’ve had enough. I let my kids eat dessert every day. And I let them choose what “dessert” means to them. Some children will pick one tiny Hershey’s Kiss, and one tiny, single Starburst square. Other of my children will choose a large bag of chips and a popsicle. More than teaching them some arbitrary amount of food that’s “too much,” I would rather teach them to listen to their own bodies. And in the process, teach myself to do so too.
3. Move every day.
What 5 year old do you know that is sedentary all day? Every five year old needs to be active during the day at some point. They run and play and jump on furniture. They just have to move! And so does every adult. We just choose not to.
There were times in life that I worked out too much and ate too little. And I would never want to go back to that mindset. So now, I still workout every day, but how I define “workout” has changed. I work out every day for my peace of mind, more than for my body image. It clears my head, and just improves my overall mood. But what I count as a workout now includes walking the dog, going to Disney, climbing innumerable stairs at a water park, or playing a long game of soccer with the kids in the backyard. Just move. Follow your 5 year old around for a day, and that should do it.
4. No one cares how you look.
If you ever want some raw opinions, ask a 5 year old how you look! My 5 year old has been known to say, “Why is the inside of your hair black?” (Roots need colored.) “Why is your belly sticking out like that?” (I ate a lot and am bloated.) These are the unfiltered opinions of a little brain on real body image. And while I certainly work on being polite and kind, it’s also refreshing to hear these things without judgment. They are just questions.
But what is the intention behind those questions from a 5 year old? That’s a trick question, because there is no intention. And that’s true in 99% of our lives overall. I tell my teenage son some advice someone told me a long time ago…
If you ever worry what everyone’s thinking about you, just stop. Because the truth is, they aren’t thinking about you at all.
That might sound harsh, but it’s the truth! Most people are way too busy worrying about themselves to be worried about you. Think your butt looks big in those pants? I guarantee almost no one else will have the time to have that thought because they are too worried about their own butt! This can improve your body image in an instant. Have that ice cream cone! No one cares more than you do. And of course, 5 year olds already instinctively know this. Five year olds aren’t worried about what anyone thinks of them!
So take it from my beautiful five year old daughter… You are loved. You are enough. You are unique. You are beautiful.
Now go play outside!