Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A series of thoughts related to parenting: Body Image

I'm so sorry it's been so long since I've written, perhaps at some point I'll share more with you as to why I've taken such a long break, but for now I'll sum it up in this: some periods of life lend themselves to slow and gentle learning. Others dash you against the rocks of self-awareness, shattering any ideas of who you thought you were and revealing your naked self. In such a season, I believe we have two choices: look at ourselves honestly, with humility and willingness to grow - or with such immense terror and shame we spend our energies pulling our 'clothes' back on before learning to appreciate our figurative nakedness. I've been, and in some ways still am, in such a season. I've chosen the first option, and it's a daily choice, and a slow process. But one I am grateful for. If you're in such a season, know you're not alone - and quit trying to put your 'clothes' back on...give yourself a moment to rest, recover, and consider your outfit selection before you pull it back on.

Since I moved to Seattle just over a year ago, I've done a lot of thinking about body image. My body image, 'her' body image, the 'ideal' body image. I've also done a lot of thinking about what I want to pass on to my daughter as she considers her body and the bodies of others. And I've considered what I want to pass on to my son as he considers his body, and the millions of bodies of women he'll see (hopefully all clothed, but statistically that's unlikely. So I figure my best shot is to instill deep, strong, healthy values and talk straight from day 1....ok, day 650ish-1000ish). I've read some great articles, and I've seen some truly terrible ones (um, Barbie as the cover model for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, anyone??). I've also realized I live in one of the most health-conscious, exercise-driven, 'fit'-oriented places I've ever been. Ever. And I've been a lot of places.

I'll save you the long details of how I arrived at the following conclusions, but here are the conclusions I've come to:

1. I want to always, only, work out because it is good for ME. Not because anyone says I should, not because it makes me look a certain way, not because I'm so disgusted by some part of my body - but because it is good for me. Just like I eat veggies, shower, drink water, get enough sleep. I want to pass this idea on to my daughter, I don't ever want her to hear me say "I'm headed to the beach in a month - better hit the gym!" or "I have to work out this week, I just have to." I also don't want her to hear me say "I'm so glad I'm a size ___, I used to be a size ____" instead I want her to hear me say "I'm so glad I have more energy now, and can play with my kids longer than I used to be able to" or "I'm so glad I went for a run, I was really grumpy before I went and now I feel better."

2. I want gratitude, not guilt, to be my driving force in all things appearance related. I want to put mascara on because I am grateful for my eyes and think they are beautiful, not because I feel gross without any make-up on. I want to wear heels and a cute top because I am grateful for my femininity, not to solicit a certain response or to conform with what 'beauty' is.  I want to exercise because I am grateful for my body and all it has done in 28 years not because guilt and shame compel me to change some very reasonable portion of my appearance.

This last thought has been profound for me - our culture positively screams for people (especially women) to criticize their bodies - are you tired of you wrinkle lines? grey hair? cellulite thighs? double chin? muffin top? pear shape? stretch marks? age spots? saggy buns? Are you? Are you? Cause you should be.

At least that's what we're told. But I want to fight against that: to live with gratitude and not guilt, shame, or disgust.

I want to see my stretch marks with gratitude - they mean when I was an adolescent I wasn't hungry, and that my stomach stretched to hold two children who now transform my life on a daily basis.

I want to see my wrinkles with gratitude - the smile ones for the memories of joy and the stress ones for the reminder God has been gracious.

I want to see my grey hair as a sign of aging into a wiser woman, and be full of gratitude for the many years I've been given. Because even at 28, I recognize the fleeting nature of life. And I am grateful for 28 years. So, so grateful.

 I want to see the cellulite in my thighs (ok, I hate this one, but I'm working on it) as an admission of my humanity, my focus on things other than cellulite, legs that work, and a body that is still not hungry.

I want to see my double chin as how I'm made, as a guarantee I'll be an adorable grandmother, and as a major benefit when making 'funny faces' with my kids. And no, I will not show you. Because your shrieks of glee won't fill my soul like theirs do...some things are just for kids. But I'm sure glad I have a double chin than translates into soul-filling giggles.

I want to see my muffin top as a sign my pants are too small and therefore my vanity too big - and see it as a reminder to be gracious with myself. I want to see me, all of me, with gratitude.

3. I want my daughter to love every part of her being, and to see her physical body as only one small part of her being- I want her to love her mind, her emotions, her spirit, her sexuality, her soul, and her physicality. I want her to see each one of them as integrally, and immeasurably, important. I want her to appreciate the health of all of them when she has health, and be kind to herself and rely on areas of health when one or more areas fail. I am positive I must begin teaching this now, and I am also positive my attitude towards myself will be her/their biggest teacher.

4. I want my son to appreciate his body - to pursue health and not macho man status, I want him to be confident in whatever size or shape his body may be (if his daddy and I are any indicator - he will not be the tallest or broadest guy in his class...). I want him to see greatness as internal, and see a huge part of his greatness in how he views/treats/engages with others. I want him to love his sexuality, to embrace it, and to be master of it not it of him. I want him to compliment women with genuine respect - to compliment their appearance, their minds, their values, their risks. And I want him to receive the same compliments with grace and confidence. So, I will ask that of him, his dad will model it, I will model it, and we will teach it, praise it, and shape it. With great, gargantuan, intentional effort and prayer.

As I've started pursing this holistic and gracious way of viewing myself, I've had to put a couple things in place: I try not to look at sizes when I'm shopping (almost impossible, but at least something worth keeping in my mind), I work out at home and do what I want, when I want, and feel great about modeling health to my children - but I don't have to compare myself to anyone else around me, or meet a quota. I've stopped saying negative things about my body - if I do feel bad about some aspect of myself, I call it just that  "I feel bad about my tummy, my thighs, etc". And I recognize it as a temporal, fleeting feeling. I use my energy level, mood, and ability to carry my  35 lb son to the bathroom at 3am without hitting any doorways or furniture as a measure of my health, strength, and balance.

This is still a process for me, and maybe always will be - but I want to pass on a strong belief of respect, value, and worth to both of my children. I want them both to engage with the world, comfortable (even confident) in their own literal skin, and for them to never, ever see another being as an object for visual pleasure or criticism. I want them to define beauty as much more than skin deep, and pursue lasting beauty - not some society-set unrealistic standard. And if that's what I want to pass on - then I better believe it myself. And who better (or harder) to believe it about than myself?

I'd love to know your thoughts on this: if this is already something you figured out a long time ago, if you just accepted yourself but stopped at acceptance and never moved to appreciation & gratitude, if you're teaching your kids one thing or another about their relationship with their and others appearance. I figure the more of us who engage in this conversation, the better chance we have of raising kids who view themselves kindly and healthily. That's a goal worth working towards. 


  1. I love this Sarah. I'm working on the same values with Bella (especially) and Jonny - beauty is about many different parts of us all put together. The same goes for health - I used to be so focused on the magazine article versions of health, but as I see our kids watching what we do and how we take care of ourselves, I'm trying to model health and wellness through overall happiness, energy, and stamina to show that it's about being able to do and enjoy everything in life we want to, not about obtaining a certain size. I love you lots dear friend!

    1. Thanks, Katie! I think you do a beautiful job of modeling this. You often come to my mind when I think of holistic beauty, and I have learned from you. Thanks for your thought on health also being wrapped up in societal images of perfection, and how that's going to look different in some ways for everyone. Your kids are blessed to be raised by you! xo

  2. Awesome thoughts, Sarah. You should submit them to a magazine! I think all of us, no matter what our age, can benefit from your insights! A. Kerri :)

    1. Thanks, A Kerri :) I submitted one thing to Huff Post one time but never heard back...any other suggestions? I'd love to get published in a magazine, but again, there's so much noise to compete with! Either way - thank you for the compliment. Love ya!


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