This Comment From My Daughter Changed How I Feel About My Body

Feb 6, 2020

I was in my room getting dressed when my three-year-old burst in and tackled me with a leg hug.

She proceeded to slap my naked thighs, giggling with delight.

“Mama,” Phoebe exclaimed, “You’re so bouncy!”

For a moment I cringed. Various words have been used to describe my thighs, but “bouncy” was a first.

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I’ve long considered my hips, butt and thighs a “trouble zone.” I don’t know whether it began with Barbie dolls, Disney princesses or fashion magazines, but I formed this negative body image early on.

By age 12, I was working out to Buns of Steel videos and squeezing the hell out of a ThighMaster. But no matter how hard I tried or how fit I was, I couldn’t seem to “squeeze the cheeseburgers” out of my hips.

It wasn’t long before others started to body shame me. There were jeers from boys in school, catty remarks from girls. Loved ones cautioned me to “be careful” with my appetite or I might wind up looking like a certain someone. (She had the same pear-shaped body type.) A boyfriend told me to take it easy when I went for a second slice of toast because he didn’t want me gaining weight.

I was a lifeguard and weighed 108 pounds.

After having children, this long-time body issue was eclipsed by a newer, more devastating one. Virtually overnight, motherhood had altered my belly and breasts — the parts of my body I’d been proud of. I no longer found any part of myself sexy or attractive, even if my partner did.

Despite the valiant women displaying their “mom bods” on social media, I wasn’t about to take a postpartum selfie.

Of course, it has never occurred to Phoebe that a body can be beautiful or ugly. She means “bouncy” as a compliment. What are bodies for anyway, besides joy? Hands are for clapping, arms are for climbing and legs are for jumping and dancing. She judges her body not by how it looks but what it can do.

Phoebe and her younger sister Chloe have a nightly routine where they turn on a song, strip off their clothes and dance till they drop. (Nudity is essential to this number, it seems.)

They jump, twirl and flail about, sending themselves (and me) into hysterics. This giddy spectacle is at once hilarious and eye-opening: children don’t hesitate to celebrate their bodies, without shame or inhibition.

We are born loving our bodies. They take us on new adventures from the time we discover our hands through the day we take our first steps. Most of us can’t remember that far back, when we stuck our bellies out instead of sucking them in, but parenthood is a window to those early years. It allows us to see and experience the world anew through the eyes of our children.

"This giddy spectacle is at once hilarious and eye-opening: children don’t hesitate to celebrate their bodies, without shame or inhibition."

For me that window is closing fast. Phoebe is knee-deep in a glittery princess obsession, and though she loves Elsa for her ice powers, before long she might covet her waistline. Chloe isn’t far behind. Even if I had powers of my own, I couldn’t shield my girls from what’s to come. No superhero could stop the wave of social pressures that are headed their way.

So I’m trying to raise my girls to be body-positive. I talk about food in terms of how it nourishes us and I explain how bodies come in many shapes and sizes. Above all, I’m careful to model body positivity — despite my insecurities. It’s tempting to make self-disparaging remarks or compare myself to others, but I keep my hang-ups to myself.

There’s just one problem with this approach: it’s good for my daughters’ self-esteem, but it does nothing for my own. What good is pretending to love my body? I want to mean it.

So, how do I unpack years of baggage and learn to love my body unconditionally, as my daughters love their own?

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I learn from them.

I’m not teaching my daughters about body positivity — it’s the other way around.

I look into Phoebe’s shining eyes, and I know that she loves my body. It protects her, nurtures her and makes her laugh. But more than anything, she loves my body because it’s mine. And in those moments, I see myself through her eyes — and I love my body, too.

“Yeah,” I tell her “I am bouncy.”

Article Author Brett Tryon
Brett Tryon

Brett is a freelance writer and a mom of two little girls. She’s been published in Chatelaine, NOW Magazine, Toronto Life, and Today's Parent.

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