Being the mother of three little girls is a scary thing. Not only do I worry about making sure my daughters have an abundance of self-confidence and that they learn how to lean in, know how to be themselves, and feel comfortable wearing and doing whatever they want to do, but I also want them each to grow up with self-esteem, self-worth, and a positive body image. It sounds so simple and straightforward, but it's no easy task given that we live in a world where, frankly, not even every grown-up woman is able to go through a day feeling like this.
I have three daughters and right now, I feel like they're all happily stuck in perfect, innocent ages. I look at them and I wish I could freeze them at these stages forever, before they start worrying what their bodies look like to other people and remembering to suck in their stomachs when they stand up and comparing themselves against every single woman who walks in a room. My heart breaks a little bit knowing that no matter how much love I give them and how much self worth I arm them with, they'll inevitably question who they are, what they are, and how they look. They're young and innocent, and I just love watching them run and play. They have completely zero self-awareness whatsoever and I dread the day when that all ends, but that's why I'm going to teach my daughters to be proud of their bodies, proud of every damn little thing.
I am 29 years old and I still don't feel comfortable in my own skin, so how do I teach my three daughters a lesson I still haven't been able to learn?
My girls are like little sponges, absorbing everything they see and hear, from my 5 year old complaining once about her "big thighs" after her aunt, who works out constantly and can bench more than most adult men, once said she hated her thighs, to my 7 year old telling her sister that she was "getting chubby." It's awful and horrible that even at young ages, my daughters have learned that their bodies should look a certain way and that if they don't, they should be ashamed; that their bodies exist for others to judge; and that a woman's worth is most heavily tied to her appearance. It's why I'm doing everything I can to teach my girls that their bodies are vessels of power and pride.
It's so hard to teach my daughters that are more important things than physical beauty while also teaching my daughters that their bodies are beautiful simply because they're theirs. It's a lesson I fight against myself every minute of every day. I am 29 years old and I still don't feel comfortable in my own skin, so how do I teach my three daughters a lesson I still haven't been able to learn?
They deserve to know how their cycles and bodies function irregardless of what they do with them with someone else.
I don't know exactly what the answers are, but I hope to make a difference for them by giving them knowledge about their bodies that I never had growing up. Unlike how I was raised, I'm going to make sure my girls know exactly how their own bodies work — and I mean everything, from what a clitoris (does that word alone make you as uncomfortable as it makes me, even just to see it?) is, to what ovulation mucus looks like. It's important to me that they know, biologically, how their bodies work and not just for how it relates to sex. They deserve to know how their cycles and bodies function irregardless of what they do with them with someone else.
It took me almost my entire adult life to even learn how my own fertility worked, which seems crazy to me given that fact that a woman's fertility literally dictates her entire life. We learn the ins and outs of the male reproductive system because it's so "simple" and the whole world pretty much acknowledges male sexuality, but when it comes to the female system? We treat it like a mystery box full of tears, chocolate cravings, and "pesky" female hormones. I never had sex ed in school growing up, and The Talk essentially amounted to my mom throwing me a sideways glance once day and asking, "So, do you have any questions?" It's a strange paradox given that our culture is so obsessed with women's bodies yet most don't understand just how those those bodies work.
I believe my daughters deserve to know the basics of how their bodies work, despite the fact that doing so might embarrass them, make them cringe, or result in them pushing me away while saying, "oh my gosh, mom, stop!" I still plan on having The Talk with them, sitting them down and giving them all the information I possibly can about how their bodies work and function normally. After all, I'm a Registered Nurse, so that degree will definitely come in handy when puberty rolls around, right?
I want my daughters to know that their bodies exist only for them and that they are not flawed, broken, or shameful in any way. I went through puberty at the age of 9 and was very much an "early bloomer," and I always felt like there was always something wrong with the way my body looked and behaved. I can remember my family laughing at the way I ran up and down the basketball court because I had a habit of running with my arms pressed tightly by my chest in an effort to stop my boobs from bouncing. I'll never forget the first time I heard a boy laugh at my hairy legs, and I can still remember my mom scolding me for saying the word "tampon" out loud, like it was something so shameful we mustn't dare let the world hear. Now, I'll do my best to make sure my girls never feel like that.
Last week, when I realized I had a tampon in my coat pocket, I was horrified by the thought that someone might see it at school pick-up. Old habits die hard, and though you might not think it's that big of a deal, it is to me. We're taught from very early in our lives to base our self-worth on the size of our jeans, to be tall and thin, but not too tall and not to thin, to be smart and powerful, but not too smart and not too powerful. We tell our little girls to "sit like a lady," shame them for shorts that are too short, and we ask them to do every short of preparing a song-and-dance routine in order to hide tampons up their sleeves so that no one would know the horror that OMG, they are healthy, menstruating women. I want my girls to grow up bucking those stereotypes. They can be and say and do whatever they want.
I don't want my daughters to think that being a woman is something that they need to overcome, so I want to empower them as early as possible, and in as many ways as possible.
It hasn't been easy for me to overcome a lifetime of lessons that have taught me that my worth lies in my body, but also that my body is flawed and kind of gross, so therefore, I must be flawed and kind of gross. Those lessons have spilled over into everything, from what clothes I wear to how I have sex with my husband. These days, I use a fertility monitor to help me learn more about how my own body works and now that I know the signs of ovulation, I feel much more confident about my fertility and sexuality in general. I know how my body works, and that is powerful. I don't believe women, and young girls especially, should feel like there is something "wrong" with them for being fertile. And although I don't want my teenaged girls to ever go on hormonal birth control for long-term, mainly because I don't feel a developing adolescent system should be messed with like that, I'll still give my daughters the right to police and protect their own bodies however they so choose.
Being a woman is a beautiful and powerful thing. Women are fascinating. We can do anything we set our minds to, and most incredibly, we can create, nourish, and sustain another life. I don't want my daughters to think that being a woman is something that they need to overcome, so I want to empower them as early as possible, and in as many ways as possible. Their worth does not belong in how "pretty" or "hot" or "beautiful" they are to others. because a healthy body is a beautiful body. My girls will grow knowing their bodies belong to them and that ultimately, body knowledge is power — and they'll have it in droves.