I’m going to digress from my Dutch life posts and discuss something that has been rattling around in my brain for a long time now. I’ve gone over this again and again and really want to talk about it. As a mother and a researcher. I keep coming across articles and Facebook posts about how to talk to girls about their body and appearance. Some advise never to tell them they are beautiful. I think that’s crap. I will tell my girls they are beautiful every damn time I feel like it. Because it’s true. Because it makes them feel good. And life is too goddamn difficult and complicated to pass up easy wins. Especially as a parent. Nearly every parenting move I’ve made, from breastfeeding to time-outs to screen time, takes thought, reflection and probably some research.
But some things must just come naturally, right? I think if there’s anything I really know about parenting and about being a part of a family it’s that if you feel something in your heart of hearts, know something deep in your soul and believe something in every fiber of your being – you say it. You fucking say it loud and and clear and often. You don’t hold that shit back. Everything else I ‘know’ about parenting is just an educated guess. You tell the ones you love everything you love about them. Everything. And I love that my babies are beautiful. They will spend their whole lives bombarded with messages about how how flawed they are. But aren’t we supposed to ‘feed the meter?’ Aren’t we supposed to be the ones building them up? I have a million different ways to compliment them and it will never be enough for all the world has in store to tear them down. I’m not giving up this powerful weapon in my repertoire. Yes, I’ll them them they are kind and loving and funny and talented (but we’re not supposed to say ‘smart,’ right? Or did that change?) And all of that is true. And I’ll mean all of that too.
But I digress, again. What I really meant to say here is this – flex with your daughters. Or don’t. But that’s what we do. And we do it because we are strong. I come from a long line of Schmidt (and Karst/Jacobs) gals with strong bones and thick muscles. By the looks of things, our girls will be of the same ilk. They are densely built tiny humans. I know this because when I pick up other people’s kids I nearly toss them into the sky because they are so light compared to my girls. They were big babies (8.8 lbs. and 9.2 lbs. Ouch) and they are big, tall kiddos. And I love it. And I want them to love it. So we are trying to teach them to love their bodies.
We are not running away from body talk, we are running toward it (with proper form). And doing pushups. And T-25. And pilates. Which all generally turn into a mosh pit of snuggling or me hollering at them to get out of the way while Mommy is doing switch kicks in the air.
I don’t know if any of this ‘works’ or even matters. But they are talking about being strong and healthy. They are talking about how important it is to feed their bodies good food and exercise. They are proud of their muscles and we stand in the mirror and flex. And in the park or on the street. We flex everywhere. Maybe we flex too much. I don’t know. But they like it. We point out our favorite muscles (I have kick ass triceps) and watch our calves bulge when we stand on tippy toes. It’s fun and we laugh and we are being positive about our bodies. That has to be a good thing.
None of us will ever have lanky super-model legs or flawless skin. But we can have super-powered hamstrings. We can have amazing boulder shoulders that carry heavy loads. And that’s pretty useful. But that’s not the message we usually get. I know. I started lifting weights when I was 12. It was the last of that blissful time before I ever really cared about clothes or appearances or boys. I went to the weight room because it’s what my big brothers did. I did everything they did. I even drank protein shakes with them. (Fun Fact: we grew up drinking raw milk in glass gallon jars from the family dairy farm. We stirred in the cream that floated to the to top for extra weight gaining power). I wanted to be strong like them. My arms and legs were simply my tools for running, jumping, and (most importantly) playing basketball. (I know how idyllic this sounds, but I really was a late bloomer and totally oblivious until my mid-teens).
Within a couple of years, the terror of the teens arrived and I hated my sturdy legs, felt self-conscious about my lack of fashion sense and was mortified by my increasingly present acne. It took me until about midway through college to overcome this crushing self-doubt, when I learned more about nutrition and found the confidence that comes from being with an amazing group of friends (my basketball teammates). It helped a lot to be surrounded by other girls/women who worked out like me and had a relationship with their bodies that was generally focused on kinetics rather than aesthetics. (I could go into some pretty lofty theoretical analysis on body image and gender, but I’m pretty sure if you’re reading this you know me and are likely to just take my word for it.)
Still, it’s one of those haunting weaknesses. If I could, I would trade in my well sculpted legs for a more slender set. It’s taken my husband over a decade to convince me that he actually likes my “girthy” calves. (He’s not the best Complimenter).
So, we are flexing our muscles in celebration of our own kind of beautiful. Our kind of beautiful is strong and athletic. Maybe your kind is tall or short or dark or light or graceful or dainty or whatever. Because we define and construct and recognize beauty in our own way every day.
Sure, our girls will be confronted with broader social concepts of beauty, but they will also have their own definitions. And maybe, just maybe, flexing in the mirror and smiling with Mommy and Daddy will help them form more positive perceptions of their bodies down the road. Or maybe it’s just fun. Who knows. In the meantime if you see a family of 4 posing like body builders in the park, it’s probably the Zipps.