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ParentsJanuary 18, 2017

What I want my daughter to know about her body: A mother thinks about body image

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Many parents struggle to work out how to talk to their children about their bodies. They want them to have confidence in how they look, but also make it clear that the way their appearance is far from the most important thing about them. Trudy Kessels writes about her hopes for her daughter’s experience with body image.

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One of my greatest wishes for my daughter is that she remain oblivious to how her body looks. I hope that she will forever have conversations regarding her body which focus on function, not form. I hope that she question all the decrees, the commandments, the rules of fashion and finds them, naturally, wanting.

I hope that she will never, in the years to come, catch sight of the bulge over the top of her bra strap (if she’s wearing one) in the wing mirror of the car and think, ‘tomorrow I’ll add some pull-downs to my work out’. I hope that she never tries on a pair of jeans and puts a crick in her neck trying to see how her arse looks in them. I hope she never worries that when she lies on her side there’s a crease where her waist ‘should’ be.

I hope she’s barely aware of how wonderful her body is. I hope she knows that when she was in my womb she was growing her ovum, and for those few weeks, we were three generations, all together, as one. I hope she knows that her heart beats up to 120 times a minute, pushing her entire blood volume around her body three times in a minute, a distance that over a day would add up to nearly 20,000kms. I hope she continues to shave off her hair (the stuff on her head) because it’s easy. I hope she knows there are 26 bones in each of our feet, and that they need comfortable shoes. I hope she still marvels that if she balances on her hands on the edge of two chairs, she can lift her knees up to table height.

In psychology, the term Body Image refers to the mental awareness we have of our body – it is used to explain things like knowing we’ll bump into the corner of the table if we walk too close. The awareness of where our body starts and ends. It’s a thing. It’s a necessary thing that we have in order to navigate the world. To know whether we can jump from here to there, whether we’ll fit through that gap. It’s neither positive, nor negative. It just is.

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I have seen memes pop up on my facebook that tell us to teach our daughters to have a positive body image – NO! I scream silently!! Let us NOT have a positive body image. Let us not be aware in any way that our bodies can be positive because then naturally they can be negative. Why don’t we just celebrate what our bodies can do – that they can jump that high, or swim that far, or make other human beings! Or fall in love, or think about stars and galaxies and physics and plumbing. Actual pluming, because I’m very grateful I have a plumber who lives just around the corner from me and that he’s used his amazing brain to learn about plumbing.

My sister spent some time in the United Arab Emirates and was amazed to discover that having a mono-brow was the thing to have. The women there drew them on. She had to FaceTime me to tell me. I’m not saying, ‘Well, how ridiculous are they?!’ I’m saying, we’re all chasing an arbitrary image of what’s beautiful – and because it’s arbitrary, it can be changed, it IS changed – to get us to spend more, worry more, become more convinced that we’d be happy if only {insert body image desirable here}. Let’s not be that. Let’s not. Let’s give our daughters freedom from that. Let them have their subconscious, innate knowledge of their Body Image, the kind that stops them bumping into tables, NOT the kind that worries if our eyebrows finish too close together.

I just watched as my daughter ran naked around the backyard playing some form of the game chase with the two rambunctious dogs. I loved how free, how oblivious, how totally unaware she was of how her body looked, or even of her body in any way that wasn’t a sub-conscious self-regulating gauge as to whether it was going to hurt if she tripped over that exposed root. I loved that her little belly wobbled as she ran, and how as she ran past I could see the dimples on her butt cheeks wink at me. I love that she has not yet learnt that first commandment of being a body-conscious female: thou shalt not wobble. I hope she never believes that. I loved listening to her laugh as she disappeared around the corner, totally caught up in the joy of the moment. I hope she laughs like that for many years.

Trudy Kessels is an unschooling mum, homeopath, and writer from Hawke’s Bay. She writes about parenting and communicating with respect, and what it’s like to not send her kids to school.

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