If you have ever once said in front of your children, something to the effect of: “I look fat…” or “I hate my hips…” or “My stomach is huge…” or (enough already, you get the idea) then you really must check out the book by Dara Chadwick, You’d Be So Pretty If… Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies–Even When We Don’t Love Our Own. Dara also blogs at Psychology Today and her own site, You’d Be So Pretty If–where you’ll find Hot (Sweaty) Mamas today.
Between Laurie and I, we have five daughters, so I wanted to ask Dara a few questions. Plus, our names rhyme and I thought the Q&A format would look stellar. Moms, buckle your seat belts, take notes and remember who you’re really talking to when you’re looking in the mirror (ie, look down at the reflection of the little faces staring up at you)!
Kara: I love what your book is about, the message is so important and goes hand in hand with our message about the need to feel good about your body for what it can do–be healthy and strong versus the disparaging thoughts about thighs or tummies. Sure we might workout for vanity’s sake too, but when it comes to our children what should we be highlighting about “why we workout.”
Dara: I always try to make it clear that I work out to feel good. In fact, I’m glad we’re having this conversation today because I’ve been super busy lately and haven’t had much time to work out – and I can definitely feel the difference. Working out always boosts my mood and helps me handle the stresses in my life in a more positive way. I have two teenagers who have plenty of stress of their own between school, activities and other commitments. I try to help them see that physical activity helps keep both our bodies and our minds healthy.
Kara: How do you and your children get fit as a family?
Dara: Walking or bike riding is usually our family fitness activity of choice, though I’ll confess we don’t do it nearly as often as I’d like. My kids don’t think of “fitness” as something they have to do; both are active in sports (my son plays football and runs cross country; my daughter is a fast-pitch softball player). I do everything I can to encourage their participation because I know that love for physical activity is something they’ll take with them into adulthood and will help build healthy habits for life.
Kara: Now let’s say we have a daughter who is heavier than she should be. NOW what? If we don’t want her to dislike exercise or associate it with weightloss only, how do we work around that?
Dara: Let’s face it: If your daughter is heavier than she should be, she already knows. Don’t make conversations about food or exercise only about losing weight – make it about feeling good and being healthy. I try to encourage moms to help their kids find a physical activity that is fun for them. It could be dance, skating, gymnastics, football, baseball, running, jumping rope…you get the point. There’s a huge difference between movement that you just have to “get through” (e.g., exercise simply for the sake of losing weight) and movement that you look forward to because it brings you joy, social interaction and a chance to do something fun. Don’t be afraid to let kids try different activities until they find one they love. And when they do, you can foster their involvement by paying for lessons if needed, getting them the right equipment, giving them a ride to practice and most important, cheering them on.
For kids who aren’t into sports, there are plenty of great video games out there now that encourage activity. We’ve got Zumba for our Playstation and it’s a lot of fun for the kids (and mom, too) – and a great workout. A walk with Mom or Dad is also a great way to get kids active and create time to re-connect. The bottom line is that one person in a family should never be singled out as the one who needs to exercise or cut back on treats. A family-wide approach helps keep everyone healthy and helps avoid hurt feelings.
Kara: I read your guest post about math and nodded. I felt (feel?) my own math skills are… how shall I put it… well, I’m a writer! But I don’t want my daughters to feel that way so I’ve been careful about what I say… and yet, I’ve heard one already say she doesn’t like math, the other say she’s not good at math (which is NOT true). Then there’s the daughter with curly red hair who wants it straight and blonde (although she gets nothing but praise for her hair) and then there’s my daughter who doesn’t have red hair, who has already asked if I’d let her dye it red. When our children start these negative digs how can we change the script? And, of course, not make it backfire into a worse situation!
Dara: Those things are hard to hear, aren’t they? Of course, we moms have to look at ourselves and see what kind of example we’re setting. If we’re quick to put ourselves down (or to put other women down), chances are good that our daughters will pick up those habits. Everyone gets down sometimes, but we can try to set a good example but speaking kindly about ourselves and others. Instead of saying things like “I’m not good at math,” we can re-frame it as “Math doesn’t always come easy to me, but when I work hard at it, I can do it.” What a powerful shift in the message!
The same thing is true about our bodies – instead of saying, “I look fat in these pants,” we can re-frame it as “These pants aren’t a flattering cut. I’m going to try on another pair that’s a better fit.” Now, it’s about the pants – not you.
It sounds simple, but how we frame our words has a big impact on how we feel about our bodies – and how our daughters feel about theirs.
And when someone is really putting herself down, sometimes a gentle “Please don’t talk about my (daughter, sister, mother, friend, etc.) that way” can really make them stop and think.
Kara: I love that suggestion. We should never let a woman (especially ourselves) get away with putting herself down. Thanks for all your wonderful insight Dara!