I was at my nine year old niece’s birthday party, which happened to be an all girl pool party. I watched as girls with all different body types played in and out of the pool unabashedly wearing swimsuits. I saw no urgency to cover up with a towel or t-shirt.
They were completely comfortable. They paid no attention to how their bodies differed from that of their friend’s and vice versa. When you’re at a pool party, you wear a swimsuit. It was as simple as that.
As a woman who was once a pre-teen, I know what I saw at my niece’s birthday party doesn’t stick. Sometime around age 12 many girls start to feel uncertain about their bodies. They hide under big t-shirts at the beach and reach for the towel as soon as they exit the pool. I know because I did this and my friends did it too.
There can be any number of explanations as to why pre-teens are typically self-conscious about their bodies. Flippant comments from family, mainstream media, social media, and so on. I can’t control outside forces. I can’t control what is said to or around my daughters. I can, however, control the example that is set inside my home. I know they are watching, listening and taking it all in.
My husband and I don’t use words and phrases like “diet” or “lose weight” even though at any given time we may be working to better ourselves in these departments. If my dinner plate is missing rice or pasta, I tell my girls that I’m trying to eat more vegetables because I’ve been feeling tired (probably true). If they notice I’m taking a longer walk than usual, I tell them I’m taking more exercise so I can feel stronger and have more energy to play with them (also true). We choose to stress the role diet and exercise plays in the way we feel, how strong we are and our ability to do the things we want.
After two kids my body is nearly unrecognizable to me. I have scars and cellulite, sags and jiggles and 25-30 extra pounds that I’d rather be without. Despite all this, when it comes time to swim or head to the beach, you better believe I put on my swimsuit without any perceivable hesitation. I walk around, play chase, swim, do cannon balls. I enjoy myself and make every effort to appear as though I am not the least bit concerned with how I look or what others might be thinking of me. The irony is, while I am doing this for my kids benefit, it actually improves my mood and I find myself feeling more confident.
I’m not delusional. As much as it breaks my heart, I know one day I may see my little girls fidget with their shorts or hide underneath an oversized sweatshirt when it’s really not chilly out. I find comfort in knowing that if they come to talk to me about it, I will have lived the message I hope to give them for as long as they can remember. “Your body is beautiful. You have nothing to hide, but if you feel more comfortable covering up, go ahead sweet girl.”