I was called "fat" at a wedding once. I had been dating my now-husband for a little less than two years, and we were still in that blissful and spontaneous time in our love affair when we wanted to share nice bottles of wine and feed each other chocolates and try every new restaurant in Los Angeles, and I put on weight. Love weight. And as a result, a woman, a personal trainer whose weekly aerobics class I'd attended a few times, said I was fat. She didn't sugar coat it or try at all to soften the blow; just smacked me on the behind, at a wedding, and said I was fat.
The thing is, she didn't know that I've always suffered from a poor body image. Even at my smallest, a size 4, I've never felt small enough. I started ballet at age two and quit when I was fourteen after seeing a video of myself dancing, my full bosom barely contained in my leotard. Then I went on to have a career as a fashion editor, where my curvy hourglass figure could rival that of Marilyn Monroe and Beyonce, but could never fit into the sample sizes of the garments we used for photo shoots. This woman didn't know any of that, but really, did she need to? Body shaming, even if it's meant to be in jest, is simply uncool. And now that I have two daughters of my own, with two very different body types (my soon-to-be six-year old is tiny and lean, "underweight" according to those charts at the doctor's office, while my two-year old is soft and round and delightfully squishy), it's important for me to know that they won't have the same issues I've had. It's equally important for me to know that they are capable of loving their bodies, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. Here's what I'm doing to help that process.
Taking the focus away from the physical.
My oldest is without a doubt the sweetest child I've ever met, and I never hesitate to tell her. I remind her that she has a big heart, and that that's what's important. Sure, I often gush over how beautiful both of my girls are (because what momma doesn't), but I'm conscious of how imperative it is that I focus more on how smart, brave, strong, talented, funny, and most of all kind they are, and how proud my husband and I are of them.
Watching my mouth.
These little ones, they hear everything. After I had my second baby I remember muttering to myself once that the pants I had on made me look fat. My big girl promptly chimed in, saying, "You're not fat, momma. You look beautiful." (See what I mean about her being the sweetest?) I was crushed that she'd heard me, and I realized that if I am going to instill a positive body image in my girls, I must first learn to love my own body, cellulite and all. And even on those bad days when it seems to take more effort to zip my jeans, I need to remember that they're watching and listening (so I should just shut up and throw on a jersey dress).
Making healthier food choices, consistently.
I'm not blind to the fact that my little ones will mimic just about everything I do, so I changed the way my family eats a few years ago when I had my oldest. I stopped shopping at major grocery stores and have cut out national brands of just about everything we eat (I am a realistic woman and realize that life is sometimes much easier with frozen Eggo waffles. And Twix.). We all have a sweet tooth, but we also eat a ton of fresh fruits and veggies. These are the healthy eating habits that they will carry with them into adulthood.
Taking frequent dance breaks.
My little girls love to dance, so we often stop what we're doing to dance to the credits of a movie or a favorite Target commercial. Sometimes we turn up the iPod or throw in a Zumba DVD and have dance parties in the living room. Anything to get them moving and have them see me moving so they'll emulate my active lifestyle when they grow up. I want them to know that it's more important to be healthy than to achieve a certain number on the scale.