From Leslie Jones. She writes about urban motherhood every two weeks in her column TWBP (There Will Be Poo). You can email her at leslie[AT]borderstan.com and follow her on Twitter @ThereWillBePoo.
During the first trimester of my pregnancy with Baby, I thought I was having a boy. It wasn’t based on anything, of course. When Husband and I found out that we were having a girl, I wasn’t disappointed, I just felt a little nervous. I asked Husband if he was disappointed and he smiled, a little confused, and said “of course not”.
I considered my reaction and I realized I was scared. I thought of all the challenges facing women, especially young girls, and it made me worry that I wouldn’t be able to adequately prepare my daughter for the biases women still face. I haven’t figured out how to deal with all of life’s challenges, how am I going to teach another person to properly cope?
Of course raising a boy isn’t easy, and boys face all kinds of challenges. But I’ve lived through being a girl and a woman, and I know firsthand how difficult it can be.
I’m so happy to have my little girl. I love my snuggly little monkey more than anything in this world, and I wouldn’t change a thing about her.
Baby is only 14 months old, so most of our challenges are still in the future. But I’ve written about some of the gender stereotypes we’re already facing in my article, I Hate Pink.
I like being a woman. I don’t have anything against make-up and beautiful clothes. I like to look pretty, and I enjoy compliments on my appearance. However, I have had an unhealthy relationship with my appearance at different times in my life. It’s still something that I think about and put importance on more than I wish I did.
In another life I was an actress. I thought a lot about how my appearance was affecting my career. If I were thinner, would I have an easier time getting an agent? But my body image issues were more complicated and long-standing than those just related to acting. I remember being 15 and completely distraught over the fact that I was 10 lbs. heavier than most of my girlfriends. I didn’t take into account my body type or my overall health; all I saw was the number on the scale. I think I went on my first diet when I was 12. It breaks my heart to think of Baby tormenting herself like that someday.
The Effect of How We View Ourselves
An article on Huffington Post, I Am Beautiful, Girls, by Amanda King, has been popping up all over the web lately. I think it has an important message. Our children learn how to view themselves through how we view ourselves. If we are critical of all our perceived flaws and make criticisms every time we look in the mirror, that is what we will teach our children to do.
Jennifer Livingston, a reporter for WKBT in Wisconsin, responded to a viewer’s criticism of her weight in a video that went viral last month. She points out that if parents make negative comments about other people, their children will learn that behavior, and they may end up bullying other children.
I have decided to model the behavior and self-image I want for Baby to adopt. That means not criticizing my appearance, or the appearance of others. I want for her to be healthy, and understand that a healthy body is beautiful. That’s one of the reasons I have been trying, though not always succeeding, to go running a few times a week. I want for her to see me taking care of myself, and for a healthy lifestyle to be a part of her normal.
But it overwhelms me sometimes when I think about all of the other influences Baby will have in her life.
I studied critical literacy with a wonderful professor, Vivian Vasquez, as part of my master’s degree in education at American University. I learned that while I can’t control all of the images and opinions that Baby will come in contact with, I can help her to frame what she sees in a healthy context. I can teach her to question what she sees and hears, and to form her own opinions.
We live in a complicated time. According to the CDC, “childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years”. A WebMD article entitled “Mom, Dad, Do I Look Fat“, discusses children’s health issues and how younger children are feeling societal pressures to look a certain way. The article cites a KidsHealth poll of 9-13 year olds, of which “more than half said they were stressed about their weight — no matter what their weight was”. So how do we teach our children to be both healthy and happy?
Something needs to change. We need to stress the importance of health, both physically and emotionally. We need to model this behavior, just like all the other values we want for our children to adopt; and it’s never too early to start.
It’s difficult to be a parent, and it sometimes feels like there is always someone ready to criticize your parenting, especially for moms. There is a lot of pressure to be perfect, and of course that’s what every parent wants to be, but none will be. When I’ve expressed concern about my parenting abilities to my mom, she has been fond of telling me, “You won’t make the same mistakes I did; you’ll make all new ones!”