Childrearing

I Can’t Protect My Daughter From Future Body Image Issues

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After a few minutes of jumping, you’re ready to move on. We head into a small room made for toddlers like you; it’s full of bright foam squares, another trampoline, and a few small slides. “Mama, I want to go on the slide,” you says, tugging at my jeans. “Go ahead,” I say, pointing to the wooden ladder that provides access. You start up the rungs, then stop.

“I can’t do it!” you whine, frustrated.

“You can, Sweetie,” I say. “You can do it.”

“I can’t! I want you to get me down,” you plead. I pause for a moment before I wrap my arms around your hips and swoop you back to solid ground.

How hard it is to parent without projection. To not imagine the rope course in elementary school gym class, the thick yellow braids that seemed to hang down from the sky, causing my heart to race. The humiliation of barely allowing my feet to leave the ground before I turned around, my hands stinging from the rope, admitting defeat. Or how I never learned to do a cartwheel, because I just couldn’t trust my own body.

I want you to know how strong you are, how capable, how exquisite.

I want you to not come apart like I did. For your world to stay big and sparkling, instead of shrinking to the tiny terrain of counting calories, hiding food and willing yourself to be different. And if you do, I hope it doesn’t take you so very long to put yourself back together. It took so much work for me, so many years of therapy and yoga, and the hard, sacred work of growing you and your brother, of feeding you from my body. Of yearning to stop the cycle of body hate that rained down from the generations, a dark and twisted strand of DNA.

For the rest of the hour, I follow you around the gym, trying to shake off the old, sticky feelings of not-good-enough.

I watch you climb up yellow slides instead of ladders. You do it your own way, and that makes me smile, makes me proud.

I want to save you from self-doubt and self-loathing. From moments like the one I just had, stung by the mirror, by the past, by my mind.

And I know I can’t.

I can love you. I can tell you the truth: that you can climb up that ladder as soon as you decide you are ready. That you are made of love and cells, of stars and warm milk. That you have more light in you than anyone I’ve ever met. That you are right and whole, a constellation of parts that together, make you.

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