Every girl has that “girls body image” moment. Mine was in high school when I lost four pounds over a week of summer charity work and when I returned, my envious school friends said I looked “really skinny.” For my sister, it was in the fifth grade, when she developed early and was bullied for her looks by an adult yard monitor. I wonder and worry what my daughter’s moment will be, the first moment she realizes her body is on display to the world.
I spoke with Drury University Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Department of Languages, Dr. Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols. Nichols, who is raising a confident 14-year-old daughter, says her main strategy to address body image issues is that she has kept an ongoing dialogue with her daughter throughout childhood, focusing on health over appearance. She’s also a very involved parent: she has helped her daughter join in with cooking via stepstool since she was very little, and they now do yoga together—but the focus isn’t just on physical fitness.
“She sees, I think, that yoga helps with mental and emotional health,” Nichols explains. “I was helping her fill out an application for something not long ago, and one of the questions was ‘how do you deal with stress?’ She wrote, ‘yoga breathing.’ This made me very happy.”
I bring baby to my apartment’s fitness center a couple times a week while I lift weights and dream of the day when she’s old enough to join me. But as for cooking together, I’ll have to make a serious effort to educate my daughter about food and provide a healthy variety for her. It’s not that we eat a lot of junk food, but I tend to stagger between extremes — eating no sugar and a gazillion greens one week to eating obscene amounts of dessert the next. I don’t want to blame my mother for these habits, but growing up she was the Paula Deen type, thinking a balanced meal meant mostly carbs and a meat dish (and a little, or a lot, of dessert never hurt anyone).
And I do remember my mother trash-talking her figure, something she still does. I don’t get it. I always thought she was beautiful with her long red hair, freckles and petite frame. But she’s a 1950’s housewife reincarnate, replete with an hour-and-a-half beauty routine in the morning even on days when my dad is the only person she sees.