I have a wonderful family — an amazing wife, a kind, responsible step-son, and a beautiful 5-year-old daughter. The bond I have with my daughter seems to grow stronger each day. She’s a daddy’s girl through and through. At the same time, though, as she gets older, I see her becoming more and more independent and venturing further out into the world. And as a parent, it’s amazing to watch this growth. But I’m also concerned.
I’m concerned that as our daughter gets older, she’ll start worrying about her body. I’m concerned that she’ll start comparing herself to the girls and women in the movies she watches and the toys with which she plays. I already notice her imitating some of what she sees in the media. Right now, it’s harmless. She repeats phrases she hears on iCarly, attempts dance routines she sees on reruns of Hannah Montana, and sings “Let it Go” from Frozen like every girl her age. But what will happen once she starts wanting to look like these girls?
I’m concerned because most of the characters she sees are thin and petite. Few are ever curvy, and even fewer would be considered overweight by our culture’s standards. And as she continues to venture out into the world, she’ll be exposed more and more to our culture’s unrealistic standards for women’s bodies. And I’m concerned about how she will compare. Will she be tall and thin, will she be more curvy and full-bodied, or will she fall somewhere in between? It makes no difference to me; I’ll love her no matter what. But it may make a difference to her peers. And it may make a difference to her.
I’m concerned that our efforts to teach and model healthy eating aren’t enough. We encourage variety, moderation, and listening to hunger and fullness cues when eating. We don’t place importance on weight and size. The frightening truth is that no matter what we do as parents, she’ll be exposed to unhealthy approaches to eating and exercise through the media, especially social media. And she’ll certainly be influenced by her peers’ eating habits and the way in which they relate to food and their bodies.
I’m concerned that when she starts school, she may endure bullying. I’m equally concerned that she could become one of the bullies.
As much as we promote body positivity in our household and as much as we teach our daughter to think critically and, in some ways, to shield her from negative influences, in the end, we can only do so much. She will be faced with many challenges. She may fall into the traps which so many of us do — comparing ourselves to others’ highlight reels on social media, believing that our appearance dictates our worth, and finding ourselves on an on-again, off-again dieting roller-coaster. She may not. Although we’ll continue to guide her and will be there to catch her if she falls, she ultimately needs to navigate these challenges on her own. And as tough as it is as parents, we need to let her stumble. That’s life.
Through all the trials and tribulations she’s bound to face as she grows up, my hope is that my daughter walks through life believing wholeheartedly that she can be anything she wants to be, that she finds her place in this world, that she develops a strong sense of self-worth that is not tied to her appearance or size, that she appreciates her body and all that it can do rather than seeing it as something to fix, that she develops a healthy relationship with food but doesn’t let it control her, and that she lives a long, happy, healthy life.
By Sean Michael Patrick