Monday, April 19, 2010

Body Education

I was sitting on the roof of my building with a friend, when a nine-year-old girl came up with her sitter. Her sitter wandered around and the girl approached us and began gabbing away in the hallmark style of a precocious nine-year-old girl. I forget how we arrived here, but the next thing you know, we're talking about pubic hair.

"I saw my mom naked once and she had hair down there!" she said in surprise.

"When you get older, you'll have hair down there, too," I replied.

"Ooh, that's gross. I have a little hair there now."

"It's just what happens to girls as they get older."

While I'm not sure this was the best way to handle the topic (and if the girl's mother would have even wanted me to respond), it made me consider how mothers are with their bodies and what tacit messages they send their daughters.

Truth be told, it surprised me that this girl had only seen her mother naked once. It made me think that her mother may be ashamed of her body, and that she was communicating to her daughter that a woman's body was something to be covered, not celebrated. Sure, we don't want our daughters parading naked around the block, but there's something to be said for them knowing and therefore fully accepting the female form. I can't help but wonder that if girls, from early on, witness their mothers' unabashed bodies (pubic hair and cellulite and bra-less breasts and all), they'll have fewer problems with body image later on.

13 comments:

Erin said...

I think I can agree with that. Growing up, we only had one bathroom, so getting ready in the morning required my mother and I to dance around each other to use the shower, the mirror, etc. There was nothing weird about changing in the same room or helping in a fitting room. She was always a little heavy, but I can't remember ever hearing her complain about her belly or hips, and she was always ready to compliment people, either about how they looked or acted, or anything, really. I'm sure there were dozens of other factors involved, but I like to think my Mom's awesome attitude towards her own body (and the fact that she never critiqued mine) is a big part of the reason I never had any food issues myself.

PTC said...

I don't think I've ever seen my mother naked. I, myself, get dressed and changed in the bathroom. I did that growing up and I continue to do that now, mostly because I live in an apartment and don't want to expose myself to the outside world. Much like on "Friends," I have seen that "ugly naked man" through my window while sitting innocently on my couch. I don't want to expose myself.

Teddyplanet said...

I'm 15 and I've suffered from disordered eating (anorexia nervosa) even though my Mom never covered herself up in front of me - we used to take showers together when I was younger! Although reading upon what Erin said about her mother's attitude toward her own body, I realize my mother did have a lot of interest in diet/fitness books, wanted to lose weight, etc., and when I was overweight she was my main 'cheerleader' when she saw I was losing weight, going to the gym, etc. She did, in fact, tell me that I needed to lose weight, but I don't believe that was the wrong thing to say when I was 20 kilos overweight.

Shae Adele said...

An interesting thought. I think you're right. My family never celebrated the body, unless, of course, it was perfect. Once my mom gained weight, she covered herself completely.

MichellSommerville0202 said...

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Kristin said...

Any time I saw my mom look at herself in the mirror, she said something negative about her body. Even though she never said anything negative about her body, I got the message: my body is not okay. And, yes, I developed an eating disorder. While I do not blame that alone for having an ED, I can't help but see the connection. Now that I am in recovery, I want to end the legacy of body hatred in my family.

Kristin said...

Oops, I mean, she never said anything negative about MY body...

I Hate to Weight said...

i don't know. this is interesting.

there are just so many factors to everything.

it would be great if mothers felt great about their bodies and supported their children in every way positive.

a girl can dream.

Kiersten said...

I saw my mother naked all the time when I was younger. I think this would have been a positive thing if my mother wasn't always saying negative things about her body. I grew up listening to her complain about her body and call herself things like "fat cow" when she gained weight. This is exactly how I learned to view my body (it's no wonder I developed an ED).

I think it can be a good thing for girls to see their mothers naked. If a woman acts comfortable and confident in her own body, then little girls can learn to feel the same way. I think it's also good for girls to see what REAL women look like so they can realize that what they see on tv is not realistic.

鈺禎 said...

失意人前,勿談得意事;得意人前,勿談失意事。..................................................

gender starch said...

My mother never hid her body from me, but she didn't parade around the house naked either. She would leave the door open when she showered and when she changed clothes, so I ended up seeing her naked quite a bit. She never seemed startled or upset when I saw her in the nude. Nevertheless, her attitude toward her OWN body was extremely negative and her interest in losing weight and dieting persists to this day. I developed body image issues just as I started to become a teenager and I've never really shaken them, I've just put less conscious energy into fretting over my body as I get older.

I would say from my own experience that my mom's perception of her own body as greatly flawed probably didn't DISSUADE me from thinking the same things about my body.

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mcmkjpra3 said...

Wow, this was posted ages ago.
But, I have to say regarding: 'I can't help but wonder that if girls, from early on, witness their mothers' unabashed bodies (pubic hair and cellulite and bra-less breasts and all), they'll have fewer problems with body image later on. '

No. NO. My mother walked around the house completely naked, and her attitude to her body was completely healthy and at-ease, but for some reason I grew up hating how I looked to the point where I refused to associate myself with 'her in the mirror'. I'm still not over that and probably may never be.

I don't think either situation on its own ensures positive or negative body image. Then again, I'm not really sure what does.