By Carolyn Spellings, PhD, CSPS Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator
“Mom, my belly is bigger than yours. I am so fat.”
A few months ago, while watching one of her favorite TV shows, my daughter said those words to me out of nowhere.
“Wait, what did you say?” I responded.
“I’m fat.” She repeated without taking her eyes off the TV screen.
She didn’t say it with sadness or frustration, but rather in a way an adult woman says negative things about her body when looking into a mirror or out with girl friends. I quickly turned the TV off and held her so close and reaffirmed her that she is not fat. She is beautiful just the way she is. We then proceeded to have a quick, very quick, conversation as to why I did not want her to say those words about her body ever again. The conversation seemed to be lost on her as indicated by her eyes darting back and forth from the remote, to the TV, to me.
Clearly she was mimicking what she has heard other women—women like me—say. I wonder in her four short years how many times she has heard women say negative things about their bodies—only praising their bodies if they are thin, have lost weight, or look good in a pair of jeans. And then I wondered how many times she has heard women talk about how strong or healthy their bodies are. Probably not many, if any at all.
Sure it is common to talk about inner strength, how we are more than our pant size. But how often do we view our bodies as strong or celebrate its physical power? Last year, I heard 2012 Global Sports Mentoring Program alumna Chyloe Kurdas from Australia speak passionately about the beauty of teenage girls playing Australian football. She described the confidence these teens develop when they realize that their bodies are strong, agile, and quick. She described the beauty of women engaging in a physical sport that allows them to display their mental toughness and physical strength.
Instead of exercising and eating healthy with the goal of being thin, let’s focus on becoming stronger and healthier so that we can coach the community soccer or basketball team, carry a box of cans to a local food pantry, or help our neighbors move into their new house. In the words of a wellness instructor at a local YMCA, “You are stronger than you think you are.” That is something I want my daughter to believe about herself. Something I should believe and celebrate about myself.