I have been blessed with long eyelashes and big blue eyes, straight white teeth inside a bright smile, and really pretty hair. And yet, I fight the urge to define my attractiveness by standards arbitrarily achieved using current trends embodied by people who spend their lives making themselves over into something or someone else day after day, year after year. Where's the reality in that? At what point does the effort become too much? Maybe that's all a bit too much for those of us in the real world- and yet we keep feeling we're somehow "less-than" because we can't possibly keep up. We'd be bankrupt emotionally, financially, and I suspect relationally, were we to live that way.
4.5 years ago, give or take, my husband and I were in a terrible car accident. A few seconds faster on the gas pedal and I would have been killed. As it is, it took about a year of physiotherapy and intense effort to really feel good again. I had significant soft tissue damage, a whopper of a concussion, and a whole lot of pain. I looked fine, but I felt terrible, and part of the healing was through exercise, and part through nutrition.
I took up kick boxing for a while, which I enjoyed, and which, at the beginning, was really, really hard. I couldn't complete a set. I took a lot of breaks. My first son, at the time not much older than my second son now, and not known for his tact (a trait he shares with me, by the way!), watched my effort with interest. One day he said to me, "Mom, I don't think it's working. You're not skinny yet. You should quit this and try Jenny Craig".
Gah! Somewhere along the line, he'd internalized that the only reason to eat well and exercise is to get skinny. And that if things are hard to do or take time to develop, we should quit? After that, I started watching and listening for "skinny or bust" commercials and advertisements. They are everywhere, especially bad this time of year, and they can't be escaped from. As an adult I don't really pay much attention now, but I know I've already internalized these messages, even as early as high school. But to hear it from a child- who will spend the rest of his life incorporating these messages, was shocking. It was horrible. And I want to raise our kids in a world where their self worth is defined by who they are- the choices they make, the integrity they show, even when nobody is watching. I want them to define their self worth using their own barometer, not some capricious standard set by society at whatever moment it chooses.
Friends, it's our job as adults to help the kids in our lives be healthy, whole, and content individuals. They need to know that they are ok, just as they are. All of us are on a journey. None of us is perfect- not you, not me, not the photo shopped beauty queen on a glossy cover, or that sexiest man of the year- boys and girls suffer from body image issues, and it's our job to help them find their own self worth. Let's watch what we say, and how we say it. Let's move away from phrases about losing weight, or getting skinny, or bikini ready.
How about we shift the paradigm to things of substance- we eat well because it makes us feel good. Or we choose nutritious food because our bodies need all sorts of vitamins to do the amazing things they do. There's room in life for chips or chocolate (in my case, chocolate is a daily pleasure), but we need to demonstrate moderation. All of us have our moments of less than desirable food choices, but to call attention to it and beat ourselves up over it mentally and verbally demonstrates to our kids that we're failures if we're not perfect. We don't want to set them up for a lifetime of feeling that they aren't measuring up. Let's try to give ourselves the same permissions we want them to have. Be alive, make mistakes sometimes, succeed at others. But live.
Let's exercise because it's fun, and because it makes us feel strong and alive. Let's play outside because it's a beautiful day to soak up some sunshine and vitamin d. Let's go for a walk because it's good for us to listen to the sound of the wind in the trees, watch the birds flit and sing, follow the path of a bumblebee, see the clouds float across the sky. I'm not advocating that we quit this fantastic digital age entirely, more that we give all areas of our lives equal emphasis. Our brains and our bodies need nutrition and exercise. There's room in life for watching movies or listening to music, but we need to give ourselves quietness and space sometimes, too. We don't always need to be plugged in or connected to something.
Enough with the gimmick diets and self talk sabotage. Let's embrace what we love about ourselves, and take steps to improve what we don't. Let's teach our kids to love their bodies, not to worry about what size clothes they wear or how they look in a bathing suit. They are growing up too fast in this digital age anyway. Let's give them the freedom to enjoy being carefree a little longer, if we can.
Enjoy your day, friends.