Lessons from My Shower
by Linda Mintle, Ph.D.
As I emerged from my shower, my young daughter took one look at me and inquired, “Mommy, will I have that crinkly stuff on my legs too?” Crinkly stuff? Then I realized she was referring to the cellulite on my thighs!
As I studied her uncertain face, I realized this was a key moment. My response to this seemingly innocuous question mattered. For years, I have treated eating disorders and body image problems as a licensed therapist. I knew my attitude towards my own body was part of an ongoing process of shaping my daughter’s opinion about her body. So how I answered this question was important.
In a culture obsessed with thinness, beauty and physical perfection, the normal invasion of cellulite to this 40-year -old frame needed to be discussed in its proper perspective. “You will only have this when you are an older mommy,” I replied. But my little one did not look satisfied. “And it doesn’t hurt at all,” I added. Bingo! That was her concern. She giggled and said, “OK” and that was the end of it, or was it?
Not really. Every time, we as moms make comments about our physical bodies in front of our young daughters, we teach them how to think about their bodies. Do we feel fat today, hate our hair, criticize our appearance or pick on our imperfections while they stand by absorbing it all? Yes, and we run the risk of teaching our daughters how to feel inadequate and never measure up. Our voice matters in the sea of media voices telling girls and women to be thinner, prettier, perfect and improved. The importance given to physical appearance is way out of balance when it comes to personal development and, we need to change this.
Fortunately, we can begin early by normalizing the changes of aging and talking about our bodies with respect. We can resist cultural prescriptions of beauty and focus conversations on inner beauty and character building. We can model acceptance and healthy living and teach our daughters self-care rather than self-obsession. We can view ourselves holistically and not dissect ourselves into parts. We can replace negative, degrading thoughts of self with loving and caring statements about the way God made us.
The next time you’re tempted to complain about your flabby stomach or ask, “Do I look fat in these jeans?” reconsider. You’re teaching the next generation how to think about their bodies. Your voice matters and is one of tremendous influence, so think before you speak. Practice acceptance and respect for the body God gave you. It will make a difference in the life of your child.
Dr. Linda Mintle is a licensed therapist, a national speaker and bestselling author with 16 book titles currently published. For more info visit drlindahelps.com.