7 Things Feminist Moms Teach Their Daughters About Their Bodies

By
Share
Ad failed to load

When I was 7 years old, two girls in my neighborhood told me I was too fat to be Catwoman in our game of Batman. I came home crying and my mom asked me what was going on. When I told her, she didn't comfort me, or tell me those girls were awful, or fall over herself to assure me of how extraordinarily gorgeous and skinny I was. She neutrally, but warmly told me, "You're just right."

She said it with such casual authority that I believed her without question and felt better. I'm now 32 years old, and I can still tell you exactly how I felt in that moment. It was like a wave of happiness had washed over me, taking with it any self-doubt. My body was what it was supposed to be. It was just right, like Baby Bear's porridge in Goldilocks. I've thought a lot about that moment since then, and see it as a turning point in how I would go on to feel about my body in the years to come. My friends' telling me what I couldn't do based on my size wasn't the first hurtful comment lobbed at my body, and it certainly wasn't the last, but my mom's response — "you're just right" — anchored me.

As I got older and thought about having children, I knew I wanted to be the kind of mom who could do what my mother had done: create a foundation upon which the statement "you're just right" could be accepted as an answer and believed as a philosophy. Because while I credit this one particular comment as being pivotal in how I would feel about my body throughout life, I know that, in truth, it was just one of thousands of body positive messages I received over the years. I knew that any "Eureka!" moments my children would have about their own self-esteem would have to spring from fertile ground. A lifetime of confidence building.

Ad failed to load

I wanted this for all my children, boys and girls, but knew, practically speaking, that this would almost certainly be a more important message for any daughters I might have: they would be faced with much more scrutiny, expectation, and judgment about their bodies than my sons. It would also be harder to convince girls that they were "just right." We cannot shield our daughters from the cacophony of mixed and harmful messages they will hear about their bodies over the course of their lifetimes. But as their parents, we have the opportunity to be the loudest of those myriad voices. Whether it will be louder than the collective others remains to be seen.

So what messages do we send?

Ad failed to load

Her Body Belongs To Her And Her Alone

Giphy

She does not owe anyone hugs or kisses just because they ask. She does not have to look or dress any particular way to make others more comfortable. No one is allowed to touch her without her consent. Her body belongs entirely to her: she makes the rules.

The Proper Names For Her Genitalia

Giphy

It's not a "tutu" or a "wee wee" or whatever cutesy, imprecise word we've squeamishly applied to our lower halves. She has a vagina, a clitoris, and labia. "Vulva" is also a perfectly acceptable term if you want to speak generally.

A Body That Lets You Do The Things That Make You Happy Is A Good Body

Giphy

Body diversity — shape, size, and ability — is a beautiful thing. Parents try to teach this to their little ones a few ways. They strive to present a wide variety of bodies of body types in the media their children consume. They simultaneously de-emphasize the importance of bodies as aesthetically pleasing while encouraging self-esteem in their appearance. It may sound contradictory or tricky at first, but it's a cinch once you get the hang of it. It's fine to delight in physical appearance, either our own or someone else's. Fabulous! Encouraged even! What feminist parents do is stress the line between "you're beautiful" and "you should strive to be beautiful" or "your primary value lies in your beauty." This can be achieved by giving varied compliments rather than sticking to simply looks-based ones. So "You're so pretty!" is fine, but make sure they're also hearing "You're so smart! That was so clever! You have such a kind heart." We also try, in our praise of our daughter's bodies, to commend them for (or remind them of) the things their bodies are capable of and achieve rather than simply what they look like.

If that fails, just try playing Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" over and over until the message sinks in...

Tumblr
Ad failed to load

Thou Shalt Not Smacktalk Anyone's Body, Including Your Own

Giphy

Since all bodies are good bodies, we don't speak ill of anyone's. We certainly don't say anything negative about our daughter's bodies, but it goes beyond that. We don't offhandedly snark at another woman's "muffin top" or someone else's "enormous schnoz." Not even celebrity women on TV. We don't stare into a mirror and bemoan our "saddle bags" or disappointedly poke our bellies, either. In fact, we don't even call our body parts by anything other than their medical name or neutral, colloquial (so, like, "butt" is fine) term. And we're not going to prefix neutral terms with horrible descriptors. Know why? It's literally dehumanizing.

You Can Adorn Your Body In Accordance With the Law And Your Own Capability As You See Fit

Giphy

So of course we will be choosing our daughter's outfits for a while. Because I'm pretty sure newborns don't care what onesie you stick them in (they're going to poop all over it anyway). Also, have you ever tried to have an infant choose an outfit? They can't. They just sit there, and occasionally they'll make a gassy face or spit up or something, but that is neither an endorsement nor a rejection of whatever clothing you're showing them. You'd be waiting forever. So for the first few months at least, go ahead and have your daughter be an extension of your own personal style and preferences. Hell, you may even get a few years before she gives a crap. But once they start showing a preference, feminist parents let their daughters pick their own clothes and hair styles. When it comes to dying hair, policies vary, but it's usually permissive. (My policy is "if you're old enough to buy the dye yourself and properly apply it without making a huge mess in the bathroom then be my guest.") Tattoos or other body modifications? They'll probably have to wait until they're 18 (at least for the latter two) in order to comply with the law. (Though piercings have more wiggle room.)

Make-Up Is Fun, Not A Requirement

Giphy

Feminist parents don't describe their own make-up routine as "putting on my face." Your face is, hopefully, already on the front of your head and not something you have to put on every morning. Unless you're like the creepy witch from Return to Oz who had a collection of detachable heads.

Gifsoup
This movie is still as amazing as it is terrifying

Cosmetics can be fun (I myself am a sucker for red lipstick), but they are not a requirement for a girl of a certain age to walk out of the house. We don't tell her, "You look so pale; put on some rouge" or, "Use some concealer under your eyes, you look really tired." We also don't say, "Wipe off that eyeshadowy, you look trashy."

Ad failed to load

You Are More Than A Body

Giphy

C.S. Lewis is credited (falsely, apparently) with coining the following quote...

"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."

Your body is where "you" live. Your brain, your soul (if you believe in souls): that's the important stuff. Now, bodies are cool; I'd rather have a body than be a brain in a jar. I'd even rather have a body than be a brain in a human suit, like Krang, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which would be pretty effing sweet.

Giphy

Bodies bring us a lot of pleasure, physically and aesthetically, but bodies change a lot more than the elegant mix of brain and soul inside of them. So when it comes to defining who we are, it's better to go with that electrical synapses and intangible goop than the blood, bones, fat, and muscle that we can see. It's like the Fox says in The Little Prince (or what any of your arty friends had as their away message on AIM back in college):

"What is essential is invisible to the eye."

Images: StillVision/Flickr; Giphy (8); Gifsoup; Tumblr

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

The Entire Family Can Enjoy These Movies & Shows Coming To Netflix In June

It's just one of those sad facts of life: every month, shows and movies vanish from Netflix, their varied excitements no longer at your fingertips. But luckily the streaming service is always prepared to fill that content void with lots of new things…
By Megan Walsh

The Reason Why Babies Smile At You Will Seriously Make You Smile

Whether you're currently the recipient of your own baby's sweet smiles or you just seem to be a magnet for baby grins in general, you might find yourself wondering why babies are always smiling at you. Sure, you could be a 'smile whisperer' but scien…
By Kate Miller

8 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say That, Yes, You Are Their Favorite

For a baby to show a preference for a specific person is not only normal, but an essential part of their development. Babies need to form strong attachments to their caregivers for their emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Usually, but not alw…
By Kimmie Fink

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at Names.org recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills
)}