The Power of Self-Acceptance: Love Your Body so Your Child can Love Theirs

love your body
Photos Courtesy: Tintalee Photography

When you look in the mirror each morning, what do you see? Who do you see? What do you tell yourself? Are your words gentle and filled with kindness? Your words and comments, whether loving or self-deprecating, are being heard by your children. The way you treat yourself, and how you love your body, will be mirrored by the little ones who look up to you; who absorb everything you say and do.

As a child, I didn’t get to see much of that self-talk my mother had when she looked in the mirror, as she was very private about her body. The door was always closed in more ways than one. With my daughters, all doors are open and will remain that way, because growing up I witnessed a heinous amount of body shaming towards my younger sister.

[Read Related: Eating Disorders From a South Asian Perspective]

One memory in particular still haunts me. Two of our aunts, during a family get together, pulled my sister and me over and said, while pointing at me, “you don’t seem to eat!” and then towards my sister, “have you been eating all your sister’s food?” followed by laughter. Both my sister and I said nothing; our faces solemn. But this had no impact on the women who continued to cackle at their own jokes, completely oblivious to how cruel and insensitive they were being. Externally, I remained quiet, stunned into silence by their words. But internally, I was seething. I was ashamed of not raising my voice and silencing the abuse that caused my sister so much pain.  

Her weight wasn’t the only thing that was commented on. Throughout her teenage and adolescent years, she started to express herself intentionally through the clothes she wore. Women in the family would look at her in disgust, or come to me to ask, “why does she wear such revealing clothes?” As the years went on, I watched with a broken heart as my sister went through phases of body dysmorphia, bulimia and self-harm. Now, as a woman in her 30s and a mother of two, although she has learned to love herself, she still struggles with her body image and continues to try and heal those wounds. 

Because of what my sister went through, I go to extreme lengths to ensure my daughters never ever have to experience that kind of pain and emotional/mental abuse. If my daughters want to celebrate their divine feminine energy by wearing certain types of clothes, whether those clothes show off parts of their body or cover up parts of their body, I fully support them.

My sister’s curves and cleavage should have never been sexualized, especially by members of our family, and more importantly, by other women. They should have supported her, and if they couldn’t, they should have just kept their comments to themselves, and perhaps done some deep soul searching as to why they felt so much shame and embarrassment when they saw her wearing clothes that they never chose to wear.

One of the most important parts of parenting is not only giving our children unconditional love, but teaching them to love themselves unconditionally too. I have taught and continue to teach my daughters about self-love, self-acceptance and self-worth through various different ways. One of them is by letting my daughters see my body; the stretch marks on my belly, the way my breasts fall, the width of my thighs, the loss of hair, and the grays that have been covering the top of my head. 

When my youngest daughter asked me, “Mommy, what are all these lines on your tummy?” I told her, “Those are my mommy-marks from when you lived inside me. You kept growing and growing, and my tummy grew too.”

“Do you like them?” she asked me. 

“I didn’t always like them,” I admitted to her, “but over time I’ve grown to love them.”

“Why?” she asked. 

“Because they will always remind me of the time you and your sister shared my body with me for almost 10 months each. And I’m so proud of that. I’m proud that my body was able to do that. And I’m proud to be your mommy.” 

My daughter traced the stretch marks on my stomach with her finger and told me, “I love them too. They remind me of the bottom of the ocean — you know the way it shines under the water?”

[Read Related: From a Mother’s Perspective: Why is Loving Myself So Hard? ]

Another way I teach them about body positivity is by allowing them to be in control of their appearance and help them make healthy choices for their bodies. They have seen me exercise, eat healthy, meditate, and do yoga, but they have also seen me indulge in chocolates and stay wrapped up in blankets when I’m on my period. My daughters understand that I make choices for my body that feel right to me, and that they can do the same. 

They can choose what clothes to wear to school, to special events, or family gatherings, (according to the weather) as long as they are comfortable in their outfits. I always encourage them to to style their hair as they choose to and to make their own decisions about whether they want to paint their nails, wear baseball caps, dresses, no dresses, etc. This is especially important because of how society and media has created gender stereotypes; girls are supposed to look a certain way and boys another way. I have taught my daughters how damaging this mentality is. Clothes and colours don’t have a gender. My older daughter prefers outfits from the “boys section” because she is more comfortable in them, and also because their pants actually have pockets. 

I have also spoken up whenever anyone in my family has commented on either of my daughters’ choices. I have had to shut down comments like, “she’s turning into a tomboy,” or “why is she always wearing big hoodies?” I refuse to let anyone put my children in a box or under a category, especially one that’s outdated and offensive. Sometimes we need to teach other adults and the seniors in our families/social circles, too. It can be difficult, but isn’t impossible.  

Teaching my daughters positive affirmations has been another great tool to encourage self-love. When I’m getting ready for the day, I purposely talk to my reflection out loud so they can hear me say things like, “I love my body! My smile is so beautiful! I’m really shining today!” Being human though, it’s unrealistic to constantly be positive; even more so when our mental health is low. However, it’s important that we don’t belittle ourselves, especially in front of our children. There have been moments when they have caught me grabbing my stomach like it was a ball of dough, while looking in the mirror, but I quickly shift my actions and say, “Isn’t mommy’s tummy so cute?” This also helps shift my inner dialogue, and deviates any negative thoughts I was having before my daughters caught me judging myself in front of the mirror. 

[Read Related: Nabela Noor’s ‘Beautifully Me’ is the Self-Love Book Every Kid Needs]

Lastly, I tell my children every single day — sometimes even multiple times a day — that “you are so beautiful. Not just on the outside. You are a beautiful, kind, smart, wonderful person. You bring so much happiness into my life and you are so loved!” We even have a “you’re beautiful” sticker on our bathroom mirror. 

My daughters know that human beings come in a variety of forms, shapes, sizes, colours and that judging someone based on their appearance is unacceptable and wrong. What the media deems as flaws or imperfections is what makes us beautiful. I have learned that self-love is not a destination, it’s a journey. Everyone is on their own journey and we can encourage our children to love every aspect of themselves even when it’s hard to, so that their love can spread to others. It can even save lives. 

Starting with yourself, when you wake up each day, tell yourself: “I am grateful for my body and for all that it does for me. It is a powerful vessel for my beautiful soul. I love my body and everything it represents.” 

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By Taneet Grewal

Taneet Grewal's passion for storytelling began at the age of six with many fictional/magical characters. This grew into a love … Read more ›