Me, this summer, paddle boarding with the girls. Joy. That’s what it was, JOY.
It only tangentially matters that I was in bed with my husband when I retold him a conversation that I had with my 16 year-old daughter. And that “conversation” is an overstatement of the few sentences that passed between us, somehow filling me with hope for the future, and a little bit of pride in my parenting and, as always, more love for my daughter than I know what to do with.
She and I were driving to her Olympic Lifting training. (Which, is probably not tangential, now that I think about it.) I was remarking that we’re getting ready to embark on a Whole 30 Challenge at the gym, something that we do 3 times a year. I off-handedly said that I was extra motivated, by vanity, this time. She looked at me like I was speaking Chinese.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because we’re going to Hawaii the day after it’s over,” I answered. With a decided “duh” in my head.
“What does that have to do with anything,” she volleyed back, resolute in her insistence that I was making no sense.
“Bikinis,” returned my more-verbal “duh.”
“Really, mom, what does that have to do with ANYTHING?”
Have I mentioned that I love her? And that I am keenly aware that by forces clearly greater than me, I have raised a child who is, really, in all ways, a stronger and more awesome human than I am. She is who I wish I was.
Like most children – mine included – I could give you a laundry list of things that my mother got wrong. It would be mostly comical, because although I have a lot of legitimate gripes about my childhood, I am adult enough now to know that my childhood made me who I am. I like who I am, so I have no choice but to appreciate the forces that made me.
One thing that my mother got so incredibly right was that she never, ever said anything bad about her body. Not once, that I can recall. I have no idea what she really felt about it, but from where I sat, she loved that body. She showed it off whenever and however she wanted. I hated sitting in the lobby while she took belly-dancing classes, but her pride in her body was obvious, if not confusing, to me. As a teenager, I totally wished that she didn’t wear bikinis with her soft body exposed. (I now realize, of course, that had it not been that, it would have been something else. The parents of teenagers are, by definition, embarrassing to their teenagers.) My mother was generally, though never specifically, open about the fact that she enjoyed her body, her sexuality and the life that she was able to live as a result.
In that way, and only that way (I think,) I am very much my mother’s daughter. And my daughter is clearly mine. As she lifts seemingly impossible weight, wearing impossibly small booty shorts. This is my daughter. I have gone out of my way to never say anything bad about my body around her. Hell, it is rule #1 in our gym, we NEVER talk about size and shape. Whenever I talk to anyone about fitness, I make clear that we never, EVER, talk in body-shaming language.
But I’m human. I remember the last time I was in Hawaii. Those bikinis don’t really fit me any more. At least not like they used to. (They fit exactly how my mother would have worn them.)
I am 3 years closer to 50. I work more and workout less. I have put on muscle in places that I didn’t know you could have muscle, which has caused the barely-there indent that might have looked like a waist that I used to have to completely disappear. I love this body. I do. But I am not used to looking at it. And as awesome as my mother was about loving her body, I still grew up in an era of “women should be skinny and sexy.” All of the media messaging that massaged my growing brain was the opposite of “be strong and love you,” it was “be small and make sure that someone else loves you.”
I mean it’s still bad. But seriously, it’s way better now than it was in the 80’s. Even the 90’s.
My daughter doesn’t even know who Kate Moss is. The whole waif thing is utterly unknown to her.
When I made that bikini crack to her, she wasn’t just confused. She was disappointed. She also thought it was utterly ridiculous. Which it is, and I needed that blank stare from her to make that clear.
We drove on. She lifted big things. She pushed through her own fears and boundaries. I watched her in awe. (Not unusual.) This morning, Brady and I were lying in bed. I told him the conversation, and he rubbed the small of my back. Naked and exposed to this man that loves me. I told him I felt so bad about it. I felt bed for being “mad” at my body for even a moment. I felt bad for letting down all the women I work with, for not being strong and secure and fearless all the time. Just most of the time. I felt bad for letting Celia think there might be a moment when her body wasn’t perfect, exactly as it is.
He stroked my hair. “It’s okay baby, they’re just old tapes. Let them play out, you know it’s just about finding the joy with your body. It’s okay.”
Damn those old tapes.
But how awesome that there is a generation on our heels who hasn’t heard them. All that endless talk we’re doing about positive body-messaging is working. For real. Like everything, it’ll take many generations to weed it all out. The change happens slowly, we can’t get all the girls – or boys – in one generation.
But my daughter? She thought that was nonsense. It literally made no sense to her.
That is one tape she’s not likely to play. That gives me so much joy.
I am confident that she is one woman who will know how to find the joy in her body.
And 5 weeks from now, I’ll be on a beach in Hawaii, in a bikini, being the woman that my mother taught me to be. And, as the woman that I am, I will gladly post those photos, and stand half naked before the world in my joy, because my joy is all that matters. And we have to normalize that for all the girls to follow. (Even when it’s hard for us.) __ *Just as true for boys, really. I just happen to have daughters, so I’m a tad more focused on raising girls in this world, since that’s what I do.