My Convertible Life

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Body, Myself, My Daughter

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, we were visiting my grandparents on the Chickahominy River one summer. I vividly remember walking out onto the pier in my one-piece swimsuit, when my Nana saw me and declared, "Why, dahlin' -- look at you! You've got hips!"

In retrospect, I am certain that Nana meant it as a compliment. At the time, I was mortified. Horrified. Wanted to melt into a puddle and slide off into the river and sink deep down into the muddy bottom. At that age, I was self-conscious enough about my body and the effects of puberty (or lack of effects, in some areas) that the last thing I needed was to know that someone else was noticing me -- even if that someone was my grandmother who loved me very much.

Now, more than 20 years later, I'm still afraid that people might look at me in a swimsuit and critique what they see. The truth is that probably no one is paying that much attention to me and that I am my own worst critic.

But I'm trying hard to get over that -- after two babies, I'm starting to realize that I actually looked great in my 20s, so I trust that I'll think I looked good in my 30s when my 40-ish self is looking back at photos. That's the thought that motivates me to put on a bikini when I'm at the beach -- that, plus the fact that it makes my husband very happy to see me in one.

But what worries me even more than how I look is how my body-image issues might affect my daughter.

Right now, Pippi is roly-poly round and absolutely gorgeous -- her toddler belly pops out in front of her, she has tan-lines in the pudgy creases in her forearms and thighs, and every ounce of it is beautiful. She's also completely uninhibited (see photo -- she's preferred to be topless at the beach all week, too) and has no thoughts about what her body should and shouldn't be. I want so much to help her stay like that, to always believe that she is beautiful and that her body is exactly how it should be.

But given that I haven't managed to feel that way about myself in three decades -- and given all the forces around her that will shout about the need to be thin or have big breasts or look a certain way -- how do I teach her to hear a different, stronger voice inside her head?

I think it might start with me, my voice, and the voices of other people who love her. Maybe if her father and I and her grandparents and our friends all talk about being healthy and confident, then she'll have some defenses built up to fight against those other voices.

When she was a newborn, my dad would hold her and say to her, "You are SOOOOOOOO beautiful," in this sweet, sing-song voice. She always smiles at him when he says that, like she knows exactly what he means. Hopefully, when her Nanna and Nonna comment on her pre-teen body one day, she'll smile and say, "Thank you -- I think I look so beautiful, too."


  1. this is something i struggle with, too, now that i'm a daddy for an almost-9-month old little girl. my hopes are the same for my daughter as yours are for lil Pippi.

    Good luck, and if you figure out an answer, please share it.

  2. I so appreciate these posts. I remember the first time an adult commented on my hips. Unfortunately, it was a certain 11th grade English Teacher/Cross Country Coach. I am still working on the "getting over it" part!

  3. Love those buns.

    You're ahead of the game compared to me. I STILL won't wear a bikini and haven't since... umm... I was two, I think. Talk about body issues, I know exactly when mine really revved up too. Summer after Freshman year, at camp, and a fellow female camper said as I was leaned over an auditorium seat talking to a boy, "Look at her using her boobs to get his attention. What a hoe." After that I walked everywhere with my arms folded over my chest esp at the pool.

    I hope you do find a way to keep her confident. Our society makes it very difficult.


  4. Brilliant. Just brilliant. The post, you, and your lovely bod are fantastic!

  5. @Thomasson -- the fact that you're even thinking about it already gives your daughter a step in the right direction.

    @Stella -- sadly, I know exactly who you're talking about. I was very naive in high school, but even I knew he was skeevy. Ugh. Makes me sad for you that you have to carry that memory around that should never happen.

    @sweetbaboo -- as someone who always worried that I didn't have enough boobs to get any attention, I say you uncross your arms and show those girls off!

  6. While I don't specifically know how to "teach her to hear a different, stronger voice inside her head," I do know that you've established a good strong village and there will be many who will help lead her to that path.


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