So this past weekend I watched my daughter (8 yrs old) compete in her gymnastics provincials. As I sat in there in the stands as a nervous momma I marvelled at the confidence I saw in the girls competing. Not only were they out there throwing down some awesome skills they did so in skin tight leotards ( think tank bathing suits). I found myself wondering how long does this last. As adults I know are self conscious about wearing a bathing suit in their own backyards with family let alone in an arena with hundreds of people while they are being judged on how they execute crazy skills. How long before the self consciousness of how they look takes away from what they love doing? I have read that by the age of 14 girls are dropping out of sport at twice the rate of boys. At a time in their lives when they need the support and confidence that sport can provide they are leaving. So what can we do to promote girls remaining active and continually developing healthy relationships with their own bodies as well as others? I don't think there is a single answer- as with most things the answer to this is very complex and multifaceted but I do believe promoting inclusiveness with regards to body size and shape in all sports is important. Checking in with your daughter to see if she is comparing her body to other bodies around her. Talk about the amazing things her body has become capable of- let's be honest I can barely walk across the beam with out wobbling let alone jumping and cartwheeling. Talk about the great people she has met because of her sport and the places she may have travelled.
But don't under any circumstances talk about the shape of her body. And don't point out the size and shape of others. Because here is the thing I think we forget. When you complement a body part then it changes it can be internalized as a negative change. Example: "omg you have 6 pack abs!" Then a short time later those "6-pack abs" are hiding under a very necessary layer of fat (girls will gain weight to start the process of puberty- different in each kid however necessary to start creating hormones and get the body ready for menstruation) Often I hear girls talk about their abdomin area in such a negative way- pinching, rolling, using such words as gross or fat. I wonder if it is even harder for the child that had their abs glorified.
I'm going to be very honest when I say I was terrified when my daughter said she wanted to be a competitive gymnast. As an eating disorder Dietitian I had my fair share of clients that were previous gymnasts. But maybe my career path has been this way so that I can support her in the sport she loves. Maybe all these years of body image training, my own journal of self hate to self acceptance, may learnings on Health at Every Size have been to support my child as she strives to reach for the stars.
To her and to anyone else who needs it I pledge to stand up for you when people talk about your body like it is something that should be changed or moulded, I will address Diet talk that happens around you so that you can continue to feed your body intuitively and give it what it needs and I pledge to always be there to hold your hand and remind you that you are so so much more than your external self. I will continue to work in this field in the hopes that I can effect change in society so that you (all of you living in a body) can feel proud and confident in your bodies just like those 8 year old girls I watched last week.
Until next time be unapologetically you and I will continue to be unapologetically me