March, 12 2015
Dear Daughter: Let's Talk About the Way You See Your Body

A mother shares what she'd like her daughter to understand about body image as she grows up.

by Candice Lopez-Quimpo
Lifestyle // Health and Beauty
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Dear Daughter,
 
There were a few times when a little boy, quite blunt with his comments, would come over to say, “She’s fat.” He’d refer to you, whom I’d be carrying.
 
Whether or not he meant harm, I couldn’t help but wonder: why is it that appearances would merit a comment from about anyone? Does it change things if I mention that you were just a few months old when those incidents would happen?
 
Perhaps I am party to the practice as well; I’d revel in your plump baby arms and legs, the folds of your neck and ankles. And I’d tell you how cute I found those.

We dote that way: itemizing the body parts that we favor. And we offend that way: paying attention to appearances more than we should. Our first instincts, sadly, are to verbalize what we see, and often without thinking.
 


I’ve heard of parents who make it a rule not to call their daughters beautiful, pretty, cute, and the like. I suppose the idea is that there should be more emphasis on other (i.e. non-physical) qualities.
 
It’s a good concept: we should certainly go beyond the physical when dealing with other people. And when it comes to children, we need to be careful about what we say about them, because of the values they may attach to certain words and praises.
 
But, my dear, we hardly have the chance to correct how other people talk and think. And this is why I want us to open up a discussion about your body and how you – and you alone – regard it.
 
You will observe that people like to talk, and it’s not just the people that you know or those that dote on you. People like to talk about anything and comment on just about everything. Someone’s appearance, outfit, body shape, toenails, hair, lipstick – there’s always something to say.
 
Do you listen?
 
In a way, it depends on who’s talking. In a way, it depends on the intention behind the comment. But most importantly, it depends on how you view yourself, your body, and your outlook in the world. Your attitude and values will spell a big difference in identifying what is true and valid.
 
May I share what I think and what I’ve learned so far?
 
1. Food is nourishment. And food is enjoyable. 
Be wary of diets and other rules of eating that elicit feelings of guilt, obligation, and averseness. Food is meant to make you nurtured, energized, and – to an extent – happy. Regard food as an enjoyable way to help build a strong body that will help you attain your daily and long-term goals. (Relish your meals, don’t overindulge. Knowing the difference is key.)

2. Fitness is not thinness
I grew up stick-thin, gorging on sweets, and nixing exercise. Then pregnancy and age hit me and made me pay. Thinness is not an indication of a sound body, nor is it any indication of health. It is a disservice to yourself to think of protruding collarbones and ribs as idealized body goals. Instead, engage in activities that will keep your heart pumping, engage your core muscles, and give you a regular dose of endorphins.

3. You are stronger than you think (or what others think)
It’s sweet if someone wants to carry a heavy item for you, but you should be able to take care of yourself at any time. Don’t let anyone keep you out of a sport or activity that supposed to be “for men only.” Whether it’s ballet or jiu jitsu, moving furniture or lifting a hefty box, your body can handle the pressure.

4. Physical perfection is an illusion
Beauty is subjective. The cultural ideal is dictated by those with the loudest voices and the broadest reach: celebrities and models who are on strict diets, made up by professionals, in well-lit photographed areas, digitally enhanced on magazine covers, and airbrushed to unrealistic flawlessness. These illusions will mess with your head if you take them seriously.

5. Clothes should serve you. Fashion can be fun, but it’s no one’s master – certainly not yours. 
Luckily, there is a whole range of shapes and sizes when it comes to clothes because every body is different. What’s hanging on a mannequin or walking down the catwalk is not meant for all. Fashion is about expression, even experimentation, not a life sentence dictating what you’re supposed to look like. Dress according to your body and your taste.

6. A routine for grooming and hygiene is a way of life
Do you need to be scrubbed, polished, coiffed, waxed hairless, and blemish-free? You can try to keep up, but don’t let it stress you out. Having a well-put together appearance should be a result of self-worth—of giving priority to caring for yourself.

7. Body acceptance does not mean doing anything you want with it
Any negligence or abuse will eventually catch up with you, even if, right now, you’re feeling invincible.

8. Know the numbers that matter and why they matter
Yes, you can watch your weight, but give it context. How does it stand to your heart rate, blood pressure, sugar levels, aerobic fitness, strength and endurance levels? A visit to a fitness coach and regular health checkups can tell you more than looking at the scale or dress size.
 
9. Your body will change as your life changes
Ah, women go through so much physically and every life stage will affect your body composition. Adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy, motherhood, and aging in general will have a say on how your body will change. Yes, there are grandmothers who can do hand stands and pregnant women who can belly dance like nothing else matters, but there comes a point when you have to listen to your body and accept things you may not be happy to. Seek grace at each point.

10. Choose your “mirrors” wisely
When your health is sliding it will manifest in your body. It may be a little pooch, it may be sudden weight gain or loss, it may be a listlessness that surfaces, or falling hair, or insomnia.
 
It’s too easy to lie to yourself that everything’s ok. It’s too easy to distract yourself and be too busy with everything else. Surround yourself with good people who are honest and kind, who will tell you the truth you need to hear so that you can take care of yourself better.
 
What I’m trying to say, Daughter, is: You listen to yourself. You do this by actively seeking ownership of your body. This way, you can shut out the noise, have a firm grasp of your responsibilities to it, and be rewarded when you keep it running at its best condition. 
 
Candice Lopez-Quimpo is a writer-editor who enjoys being a hands-on mom. While she constantly looks for stories to tell and collaborations to explore, she often finds herself pondering the curiosities that come with everyday life and the happy mayhem brought about by a growing family. Follow her on Twitter @candicequimpo
 
This article was first published by Rappler.com, a Manila-based social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change.