Tuesday, August 06, 2013

What Not to Say to Your Daughter and Why You Should Avoid Assumptions About People

Tonight, I found a particularly troubling blog post that someone wrote giving mothers advice about "How to talk to your daughter about her body". I tried to just dismiss it, but it kept bothering me so much that I felt it might be helpful to explain what's wrong with it and what mothers can do instead.

1. 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.

Please, don't listen to this. The world is going to tell your daughter that her body is bad, stinky, too dark, too fat, too short, too tall, et cetera. Please teach your daughter that her body is great.

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

If you notice that your daughter has lost or gained some weight, there's nothing wrong with talking to her about how it is absolutely normal for our weight to vary at different times of the month or depending on how active we may be.

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

If you think your daughter's body looks amazing, tell her! Tell her how gorgeous her brown skin looks with that skirt or how adorable she looks wearing the new swimming suit she picked out. Why shouldn't someone tell her how marvelous she looks? There seems to be a problem in white colonialist societies where women are afraid to compliment each other. Don't buy into that!

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

Don't say this to your daughter. In fact, don't say this to anyone, ever. Teach your daughter that "healthy" is a completely subjective notion. You can't tell anything about some one's health by looking at them. I went through 18 years of my life looking "healthy". The whole time I was suffering with a terrible progressive auto-immune disease. However, everyone thought that I was just imagining all of the symptoms I felt. After all, I looked "healthy". It was heartbreaking and frustrating to be told time and time again that I looked healthy when I kept telling people that I did not feel well. You aren't doing anyone any favors by telling them that you think they look healthy.

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

Again, this is indeterminable. How does a strong person look? All of these women are Olympic champions. All of them have very different looking bodies. All of them are strong.Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

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

This isn't all that bad. However, I'd say it might be better to tell her that it seems like she's in a good mood. Also, it might not hurt to make it a point to regularly let her know how much you enjoy being around her regardless of her mood or happiness.

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

I disagree wholeheartedly. Teach your daughter that there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying nice things to other women. If you think that a woman's new hair color is pretty snazzy, let her know. If you really admire a woman's tattoos, feel free to tell her how cool they look. If you see a woman with beautiful ebony colored skin, don't be afraid to say how stunning she is. Let your daughter see that you can admire all kinds of women and all kinds of bodies. It will teach her that she needn't feel obligated to fit into the narrow and negative Western beauty ideal that is damaging the psyches of so many girls today.

8. 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.

No. Encourage your daughter to figure out what makes her feel less stressed. Teach her that she should feel free to develop her spirituality wherever she feels led and let her know that you will support whatever decisions she decides to make, even if she decides that she doesn't need any kind of spirituality in order to be happy. Teach her that there are plenty of folks who follow the faith traditions of their families, but there are also plenty of folks who strike out on their own and that's okay, too.

9. 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.

There's really no need to do this. Not all girls enjoy team sports. She can grow up to be a good leader and a confident woman even if she decides that she'd prefer solo activities. She may not like sports at all. There are plenty of other ways to develop the skills needed to engage in teamwork.

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

Please don't teach your daughter to associate abilities with being a part of a particular gender. Some women do need men to move their furniture and there's nothing wrong with that. There's never anything wrong with asking for help when she needs it. Tell her that.

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

Ask your daughter if she wants to learn how to cook. She may not even be interested in it. Not all women are. Teach her that it's perfectly okay if she doesn't know how to cook. Let her know that if she becomes interested in learning, then you'll show her or you'll learn together.

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

This assumes that we all have moms who collect recipes. Again, not all women like to cook. It's perfectly okay to buy a recipe book if she wants to learn how to make something. There's nothing to be ashamed of.

Oh yes, and some of us don't love being outside, so we can't pass on that love. Some of us hate being outside. Some of us can't spend time outside, because of our disabilities. It's okay to be an "indoors girl". You can get plenty of exercise without ever leaving the house. However, if you do decide to take her outdoors, make sure you teach her about why sunblock is important.

13. 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.

This is ableist. Don't tell your daughter what she can and can't do with her body. She may not be able to run a marathon, even if she wants to. She may not be able to scream or sing or lift up the world. She can still be awesome even without doing any of that. Tell her so.

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

Skip that advice. Tell your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to enjoy it. Enjoy it in any way that she pleases, because it's hers and only hers. Enjoy her body to the fullest and tell her that there is absolutely nothing shameful about her body or anything that her body does or anything that she does with her body. That is what you should teach her.

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