Food for Thought

How to talk to your daughter about her body: teaching and learning self compassion

This week, I finished an 8-week mindfulness course at work (see previous post here). We were required to attend at least six 2-hour sessions and I was pleased to say I attended all except one when we made a trip to Wales and I’ve learned so much from it. One of the things I’ve learned is how hard it is for me to be kind to myself. We have no problems being kind and loving to those we love or those in need, so why do we find it so hard to be kind and loving to ourselves?

I will talk more about what I’ve learned from my mindfulness training at a later date, but the session we had on self compassion was really eye-opening. We were asked to imagine a loved one (animal or human, still with us or not) and to repeat words and phrases of kindness and love. While these phrases were repeated, think about how your body feels saying these words.

Now try saying it to someone whom you feel indifferent to. It could be a colleague, friend of a friend, or stranger on the street that you don’t know very well and don’t have any strong feelings of like or dislike towards. Now think about how that feels.

Now try repeating those words…directed to yourself.

We’d been doing meditation techniques and keeping the busy, flowing river of our mind to remain calm. The exercises directing kind words to others was easy enough. I felt this lovely warm and tingly feeling all over, the same as what I felt when remembering a loving moment (like cuddles with our purring kitties), but the minute I tried giving myself kind thoughts, I immediately froze.

We are so self-critical and can’t seem to accept praise for all that we’ve accomplished and done with our own bodies and two hands. It’s so easy for us to berate ourselves when we’ve made a mistake, but would we ever say those same words to a friend or loved one?

A friend has shared inspiring words from The Cosmic Dancer Facebook page and I thought it tied in nicely with what we learned of self compassion.

The story below refers to words to teach your daughter, but I feel as a woman to my fellow human beings with insecurities about their bodies, this applies to everyone.

How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.

Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.

If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:

“You look so healthy!” is a great one.

Or how about, “You’re looking so strong.”

“I can see how happy you are — you’re glowing.”

Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.

Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.

Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.

Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say, “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.

Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.

Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with.

Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture.

Teach your daughter how to cook kale.

Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.

Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.

– Sarah Koppelkam

With a world riddled with scrutinising the lives of celebrities and models and how they look, it’s generated this culture where we start looking at everyone around us and making judgements. How others look, their body shape and what they’re wearing. Each one is unique and not everyone has the same body shape or type. Learn to embrace who you are and your faults. Remember: nobody is perfect.

I learned a lesson recently and the above story really resonated with me.

Compliment the other person on something that has nothing to do with their body. Don’t comment on others’ bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.

By doing this, we are basing a person’s value on the physical appearance when it’s their soul and personality we appreciate. I used to share parts of my body that I wasn’t happy with. What person doesn’t have at least one? I was trying to reinforce the fact that everyone has insecurities about their body. I’ve learned not to be insecure about it – I was mentioning it as a fact. The response I got though was ‘you don’t have anything to worry about, you’re skinny as anything!’

Don’t let other’s perceptions of how you look take root and knock your self esteem. The first thing we all need to remember is how to love and be kind to ourselves. Once we’ve learned that others’ opinions of us don’t matter (unless it’s someone we cherish and they have a comment to make about our behaviour), we learn the first step to finding a more balanced soul.

We have so much love to give others, why can’t we do the same for who we are?


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