Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Let's Talk Body Image

The other day, I invited three of my friends over for pizza and iced tea.  Two of these friends are 12 and 14 years old—they’re sisters and I’ve babysat them forever.  They are the closest thing to daughters that I’ve ever had, even though I’m not that much older than them, I love them fiercely and feel very protective of them.  I remember when they went through a strawberry milk phase, when they went through a sleep ass-naked phase.  I know which one likes their hot dog without the bun, and I know which one would lie about brushing her teeth by putting a dab of toothpaste on her tongue, breathing hot hair in my face and saying “seeee?”

And now they are preteens.  They have Instagram and they go to Taylor Swift concerts.  One is fresh and witty, she tells me she’s going to be an actress.  The other is tooth-achingly sweet and innocent.  They’re both striding through the preteens with such grace and ease that it’s kind of shocking. 

Anyway, when I had them over, my good friend (who’s my age) joined us.  We all hit it off, devouring margarita pizza.  And then, half way through dinner, my friend said she needed to stop eating.  My daughters, that’s what I’ll call them, looked puzzled. “Why?”  They asked.  So my friend explained.  “My thighs,” she said.  “And my ass.  Have you seen these?” 

This, of course, is nothing out of the ordinary.  We’ve all been there, and we’ve all talked about it, over dinner, over coffee, whatever.  I’ve had this conversation many times, idly complaining with friends about how if we could only get a few inches off this area, then everything would be perfect (ha). 

But in front of my daughters?  I found myself leaping to protect them, wanting to cover their ears.  I remember, very vividly, sitting on the beach one late afternoon when I was about eleven or twelve.  My mom was swimming and I was sitting next to an old family friend and her friend, two women in their young 30’s.  I was diving into a baggie of goldfish and listening to them chat.  I had always deeply admired one of them.  She was quick and intelligent, warm and hilarious, with long curly hair and tattoos.  There was nothing not cool about her.  But that afternoon, I remember she was talking about her weight.  She was talking about wanting to lose weight, wanting to feel skinny, etc.  And I was floored.  She was curvy, but that’s what I loved about her.  She owned it, she was beautiful, and I couldn’t wrap my head around her being displeased with herself, when all I wanted to do was be her when I grew up.  I remember looking down at my own thighs, pieces of my body I had never thought much of, and wondering if I should be feeling something about them, if I should wish them to be otherwise.  It was entirely new to me.  Frankly, it opened a door that is a lot harder to shut. 

So this is why I jumped to protect my daughters.  I’m not saying people shouldn’t ever want to lose weight or get active or change their bodies (and, in fact, my friend from pizza night decided she wanted to get in shape and is kicking ass).  But I want my daughters to think nothing of their bodies until they absolutely have to.   Because they are healthy, they work, and there is so much more to worry about in life.  For now, it should just be the little things.  


photo by Norman Parkinson, 1971 

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