The other day, while at an event with my three daughters, I sat at a table with a circle of women who took turns talking about weight loss and who looked skinner and how they wished they could be skinny.
I felt like I was sprinting around putting out flames as my young daughters sat like little pitchers with big ears. Having grown up with no healthy example of body image, I've had my own body struggles, and one of my biggest fears is passing those struggles on to my girls. And while I can talk until I'm blue in the face about having a healthy body, the truth is, it's other people who are the biggest influence in our girls' lives.
I look at my daughters right now and it hurts my heart to see how beautiful they are. I see their innocence and their uncombed hair and their scabbed knees and I want to freeze them at this age, an age before they start judging themselves by how they think the world sees them.
It's incredibly hard to wade through this world of women, when almost every single woman I know talks openly about her weight, how she's "cheating" on her diet, how fat she is, how much she hates her body and her rolls, and how she sees exercise as a way to beat our bodies into submission. It's incredibly hard to try to filter the negative self-talk that so many of us grown women project (myself include sometimes!) before it damages the next generation.
And more often than not, the culprit I hear over and over again is women praising each other for looking "skinny."
Wow, you look so skinny for having babies!
Ugh, how is she so skinny?
I wish I was as skinny as you!
If there's one thing I want my daughters to aspire to in life, it's not being skinny. I mean really, where does that word even come from? Did it literally stem from "skeleton"? Being skinny is not an aspiration that I want my girls to think is a woman's great purpose in life.
I don't want my girls hearing that one body type is better than another and I certainly don't want them to think that it's their aspiration in life to be as skinny as possible.
Don't get me wrong—some women are naturally thin and that's entirely different. 100 pounds is beautiful, just as 200 pounds is be beautiful. But used in the wrong context, when we aspire to be skinny only because we think it's the most beautiful shape and more importantly, when it's not something that comes naturally to us, it's damaging.
And usually, it's the word "skinny" that I feel like sticks the most with my girls, probably because it's the word that sticks the most with me, too. There's something about hearing the word "skinny" over and over and over that messes with your mind. It infiltrates our psyches as women until deep down, we really do think that if only we could be skinnier, we could be happier. We equate skinniness with health, and that's just simply not always the case, which is the whole point I want my daughters to see.
Someone who is "skinny" may be just as unhealthy as someone who is "overweight." They may have the same eating disorders or the same body image issues or the same bad eating habits or the same blood pressure issues. Health is not superficial, and underneath that skin, we all have our own struggles.
So I'm working hard to replace the simple vocabulary that surrounds my girls every day. Instead of "getting skinny" or "losing weight," we exercise and eat our vegetables because we want to be "strong" and "healthy."
A good body is about being strong and healthy, not literally taking up as little space in this world as possible. Every woman is shaped differently, and unless being thin comes naturally to you, it's just not healthy to try to force your body to be something it's not.
This is not to say that being skinny is bad, of course, but I can already tell what body types my daughters will have as they grow, and being a woman who struggles to hold on to weight is more than likely just not in the cards for them. We come from hearty stock, with sturdy legs and thick arms that I imagine were better suited to pitching hay bales or hauling buckets of water from the river.
The point is, I don't want my girls hearing that one body type is better than another and I certainly don't want them to think that it's their aspiration in life to be as skinny as possible. Strong and healthy is beautiful, no matter what body type you have been blessed with.