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With Schoolyard 'Skinny' Chat Starting As Young As Five, We Must Raise Body-Positive Girls

It's about 'strong' not 'skinny'.

27/07/2017 10:14 AM AEST | Updated 27/07/2017 10:17 AM AEST
Klaus Vedfelt
"It doesn't matter how you look on the outside. Do you feel strong? Do you feel healthy? Do you feel happy? That is what matters."

Recently, when my daughter was chatting to me about her day at school, she mentioned that she and a friend had played together at lunch and had been running on the school oval. It sounded lovely and I was pleased to hear that she'd had a good day. I don't always get many details from her so I was enjoying the chat.

Then she said something that made me stop short. Her friend had told her that they should run lots and eat less food so that they can be skinny.

Skinny.

I hate that word. I can't think of any situation where it is used as a compliment or something positive.

The thing that really irked me about this seemingly innocent conversation was the fact that my daughter is five years old. Five years old!

I have no experience raising boys, however, I am all too aware that the tween and teen years for girls are a minefield of mean girls, popularity contests, body image issues and so much more. But I never thought I would start hearing these things at age five. It's heartbreaking, and one of those moments when you realise that you can't keep them in your bubble forever.

I'm not naive, I am a woman and I have a sister. I have seen first-hand the pressures girls face growing up in a world that puts so much importance on appearance. Just getting through the tween and teenage years without drama would be an absolute miracle.

It doesn't matter how you look on the outside. Do you feel strong? Do you feel healthy? Do you feel happy? Then that is what matters.

And so, we spoke about what skinny means. I take comfort in the fact that she had no idea what it meant, and reiterated what I had told her in the past: We eat food and exercise to fuel our bodies and to be strong.

I kept it lighthearted because I know that this is a one-off comment, I am certainly not freaking out and planning to pull her out of school to keep her home in a controlled environment with no outside input... I can't, right? However, a seemingly innocent comment just gives an insight into the bigger picture and what is actually a real issue for young girls today.

I make a real effort not to talk about weight or appearance in front of my girls, but I can't control what they hear and see outside of this house.

So, in light of this, I wanted to share some of the ways that I talk to my girls about their bodies. As with all parenting, I just have to hope that in crucial moments they remember what they have been taught, and have the courage and strength to feel secure in themselves.

Strength, not size.

We talk about how food is fuel to grow strong muscles and help you to move and have energy. We never mention weight or size. There is no connection to eating certain foods or exercising to be a certain size or shape. It's all about our insides and how we feel, not how we look.

Food.

My girls are aware that there are 'sometimes' foods, such as chocolates, lollies, pizza etc. It's okay to eat them sometimes, they taste good and should be enjoyed. They also know that it is important to eat the 'always' foods like fruit and vegetables, yoghurt, cheese etc. Nothing is labelled as bad or good.

Our amazing bodies.

My legs are so strong, they help me run and walk.

My feet are amazing, they carry my whole body around and help me stand and walk.

My tummy is amazing, it can digest everything I eat.

My eyes are amazing, they can see everything around me.

My mouth is amazing, it can talk and eat and sing and whistle.

My bottom is wonderful, it makes sitting down so comfy.

The point is to point out the ways that our body parts work and the amazing things they can do rather than focusing on how they look.

Feelings.

Focusing on how we feel inside rather than how we look on the outside. It doesn't matter how you look on the outside. Do you feel strong? Do you feel healthy? Do you feel happy? That is what matters.

I am hoping that we make it through the gauntlet of parenting for the next 15 or so years and come out the other side with strong, happy and healthy girls.

In the meantime, I'll rely on my mum tribe who are going through it with me. Oh, and good wine!

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