If you have ever been around a child, you have likely noticed the twinkle in their eye and they seem to carry this… “I have no care in the world about what you think” attitude with them. They overall do not seem to be aware of some of the lurking negative false hopes and beliefs that will soon encompass them. I was reminded of this when I was at the beach (finally) the other day with my son. There was this little girl there playing in the sand. This girl was just beaming with hope and happiness. She was probably about 3 years old, had long wavy brown hair pulled back into a low ponytail, and a pink swimsuit on with a tutu. As I am watching her, I happened to oversee this mom’s adoration for her daughter. She is smiling at her with these glistening eyes and stops to capture the moment as her daughter is laughing with her legs covered with sand.
I couldn’t help but to stop for a moment and pause to think about how I hope this girl grows up to feel the same adoration for herself that her mom was feeling for in that moment.
I bet you can almost picture this little girl (or maybe you're thinking of a little girl you know in your life) and your heart is feeling full thinking about her. Well what if I changed the narrative and told you that her swimsuit was not a one piece and part of her stomach was showing... And what if I told you that her belly was sticking out? Would this change your adoration for this sweet little girl? Or do you think it changes the adoration this mom has? I can guarantee you that this fact does not change the love or adoration this mom has.
So I stop and think even further. I wonder… because of this visual representation of her body… could this change how she thinks about herself in the future if her body continues to be her body? I know that right now she could care less. She is not noticing. She is not comparing her body to anyone else’s body. And I just absolutely love that!
I am curious… Where do your thoughts go? Are your thoughts possibly rooted in diet culture? Do you say… well I hope she will grow out of that stomach. Or did you think… why didn’t that mom help her to cover her stomach? OR what if this little girl has a loving well intentioned family member poke her stomach in the next few years and say “You better watch that”. And now all of a sudden, this sweet little girl who previously had no care in the world is forever impressed upon. She forever feels self conscious about her body. And she stops smiling.
Many of the clients I work with often have a “moment of impress” in their childhood that they can still remember to this day. All of these well meaning statements or actions are well intentioned, but they can have devastating potential consequences. If you were thinking any of these things or maybe you have said something like this to a child. I do not blame you! I fully know that this is all a result of diet culture that is passed down from generation to generation.
The next thing I start to wonder about… Why can a 3 year old have a little belly without judgement, but when we start getting into puberty or adolescence age, such as 13 years old it does matter. Or for that matter, why does it matter with a 33 year old or a 63 year old. Why does the age of someone change our view and judgement towards the body?
And all these questions lead back to identity development, which is basically judgement development that happens in our formative years. We learn to view the world from the lens we are given, which includes diet culture and the insecurities of those around us.
As I sat on the beach, I just continued to hope that she can form an identity that supports her to love herself and to not negatively judge herself based on external factors. However, that is often not our reality.
Her future identity (and ours) is simply a reflection or a mirror of how she grows up and how she will think about herself as a child. This identity is created through experiences and how we interpret those experiences. And from this we create beliefs. My hope for this girl is that this beach experience with her mom adoring her and modeling being secure in her body is a positive imprint on her that she can cherish for forever.
Listen to my latest podcast to hear about this story and likely what may happen to Rosa...