By Sharleen Froats
“Sweetheart, it is not your goal in life to be as small as possible.” I said this to my 11-year-old as I helped wash her hair in the shower last night.
(My daughter has a massive mane of long thick hair, and she doesn’t have the skill yet to manage it well, so we’ve worked out an arrangement of how I can help her keep this hair she loves in good condition – aka clean. 😉 )
At this point, she is also old enough to be feeling modest – so she usually wears some version of a swimsuit and calls me in to help scrub her head when she is ready.
She sits down in the tub so I can reach her head (my daughter is also very nearly a full-grown woman at this point). Her body exploded into puberty this year with all the myriad of changes along with it – adult body hair, adult fat patterns (bum, hips, thighs), breasts, and menstruation.
She doesn’t quite know what to do with this body sometimes and quite frankly, neither do I. She has changed from baby to adult visibly in ways our son never did. Our son grew taller, added a little facial hair and deepened his voice. Nowhere near as significant a transition as our daughter.
So there my daughter is, sitting in the tub cross-legged. I start scrubbing her head and see her squeeze her thighs with both hands as she says, “You know what, Mom, I think my thighs are getting smaller!” with a little note of excitement – as though that was a great goal or milestone to achieve.
My heart sank. Particularly because I had just had the thought, when I opened the shower curtain and observed her at full height, what a beautiful, strong and robust body she has. She is not small. She is well over 5 feet, extra-large framed (benefits of having an Exercise Physiologist for a Mom who can actually assess these things) and already well-muscled. Yes, she is carrying a little extra body fat, but with her explosion into puberty this is totally normal for this phase in her development.
So I glanced down at her, got a little closer, ensured her head turned up and her eyes met mine and said those words:
And I went on to tell her what I had just observed of her beautiful developing body and told her that her body is an exceptional gift. I said, “There are few people gifted with the kind of body you have. One that is so strong and robust at such an early age. Being small is not a goal, Sweetheart. Love your body, move it and let it become what it wants to become.”
I’m not sure what I was expecting, some resistance or an attempt to convince me otherwise, but all she said was, “Ok Mom,” with a sweet smile and then she switched topic of conversation to how much she loves horses.
Once she had trotted off to bed, I had a moment with myself. I thought about how much of my life I have believed I was too big, too fat, or too much in some way. Now that I am guiding a young female into adulthood, I see how her body is naturally developing and how unnatural being small would be for her. Was I in need of the same advice?
So after her shower was finished, I went back into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and started by saying into my own eyes, “Sweetheart, your goal in life is not to be as small as possible.”
And I know that – to an extent – words do not teach. So how will I model that to her? How will I show her how to fuel and move and love her body into its fullest expression of health and athleticism and what feels good to her? Rather than hate and criticize and restrict and limit it into society’s tastes?
Living my own life by fuelling my body well in all ways, moving it in ways that feel good, and loving the shape that emerges from that care is the best way I can teach my daughter the same thing. Being able to flow that kind of loving energy to my daughter has helped me be able to do the same thing for myself.
Maybe today you can start by extending the same level of grace to yourself in some way that you extend to those you love. What words do you wish someone had spoken to you on your health and wellness journey? Can you give them to yourself today?