My 4-year-old daughter comes up the stairs in our three-story home carrying a heavy pink basket filled with wooden toys. She stands in the door frame, smiling and proud of herself, waiting for me to notice how strong she is.
“Audrey, wow! Did you carry that all by yourself? You are so strong!” I say, ignoring the fact that she’s not supposed to bring those toys upstairs. I am too impressed with her. I’m not impressed that she’s strong. We’re all strong; we just forget about it sometimes.
Rather, I’m impressed that this is what she’s proud of.
I noticed recently that my daughter stopped asking me for help with carrying heavy things. She still makes her teacher carry her backpack…but that’s just Audrey precociously giving the woman a hard time. She moves toy kitchens across playrooms, carries bin-loads of Barbies up the stairs, and insists on hauling her laundry basket herself. When my boys offer to help me carry the grocery bags, Audrey insists on being included. She gets into it, huffing and grunting and saying, “Ooh, this is so heavy!” followed by, “I’m so strong!”
And I am proud of myself, too. “It’s working!” I think with joy. When she was born, I decided that I was going to raise my daughter to think of her body as strong and capable, and to love it exactly as it is and for what it can do. I decided never to talk about weight loss or body-consciousness around her. I joined CrossFit when she was 1 year old, and I’ve let her come and watch me work out. I love to lift weights, and she knows it.
As a teen and then in my 20s, I was always self-conscious about my body, but I look back now at photos of myself and wonder what all the fuss was about. I was adorable. But back then, one comment like, “That sweater isn’t flattering,” could send me into a downward emotional spiral for a week. On the contrary, one, “You look like you lost weight,” gave me the adrenaline and self-esteem to take me through until the next perceived slight. Don’t even get me started on what weighing myself could do! Step classes, kickboxing, Weight Watchers meetings, food journals, personal trainers…the list goes on and on. Sometimes I lost weight, and sometimes I gained. But I was never consistently happy with my body.
My story isn’t unique. Like many women entering their 30s, I was determined to reach a size 4 and stay there once and for all. When I joined CrossFit, I wrote “weight loss” on my list of goals. That makes me sad. How could that have been my goal?
Now, every New Year’s, when we fill out our resolution cards at the gym, I write my new goals: do a strict pull-up, run a mile without stopping, dead-lift 275 pounds. When I step on a scale (when I have to at the doctor’s office), the number has zero affect on me.
Don’t get me wrong. I love it when I can buy a smaller skirt size. My pile of too-large giveaway clothing makes me feel great. I still want to look beautiful, wear great dresses, and have my husband tell me I’m hot (which he does no matter what size I am). I just don’t want any of those things to be the source of my self-esteem and happiness.
As for my daughter, I want her to be proud of the things she does, and I definitely never want to hear her use the word “diet.”
I still encourage all the girly deliciousness that my daughter loves. Pink and fairies and princesses dominate her interests. In the middle of the night, she puts on her Elsa costume over her Sofia the First pajamas. She steals my sparkly blush when I’m in the shower, and has decided my pink lip gloss is actually hers. Audrey is rewarded with nail polish when she has no potty accidents, and would wear a pink leopard-print tutu to school every day if given the chance. Her gymnastics outfit, in all its shiny metallic rainbow glory, comes complete with pink-trimmed booty shorts that make me want to take a bite out of her chunky inner thighs.
Audrey doesn’t know that there’s a world in which girls must be rail-thin, must be feminine, must be tall, must be…anything. And through pride in what her body can do, I’m laying the groundwork to keep it that way.