The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 4, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Prepare kids for battle of self-image

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — My daughter ran across the backyard through an arc of sprinkler water. Her limbs are longer than I remember them being, having stretched across the colder seasons. Now, she jumps into summertime, calves flexing.

Her arms are branches. Her feet are roots. Her muscles, once so slender, are strengthening with each leap and dance.

As a mother, of course, I appreciate her growth. I marvel at the shape of her shoulders, what used to be a narrow bridge that could only span the width of my palm. She grows, and it's miraculous.

"Just look at yourself!" I crow. "Your legs are so strong from all of this running and chasing. Can you feel those muscles when you jump?"

She reaches down and pats her thighs, then takes off into the rainbow-showered lawn.

I'm feeling the importance lately of talking to my kids about their wonderful, powerful bodies. On passing TV commercials or in overheard conversations, it's becoming more common for my daughters to hear negativity about bodies and shapes.

Everywhere, adults bemoan their weight and size. They preach dieting and skinniness. They talk loudly and often about fat and bulge.

And when I see my daughters taking it all in, I feel like I can hear a small refrain taking hold in their own minds, behind wondering eyes: What about my shape? Is my body good enough?

It's hard in today's world to walk the line between teaching healthful habits and shaming people. Everywhere are images of bodies that supposedly represent perfection, or its counterpart, ugliness.

Though it's an uphill battle, not only against society but against human nature in general, I want to be part of a movement to teach my kids that their bodies are strong, amazing and worthy of being well cared for.

Because I will eventually have so little control over what images and descriptions my children are subjected to, I figure the best thing to do, for now, is to teach them how to take care of their bodies, enjoy their strength and fuel their muscles and minds.

I hope that the way they hear us -- their parents -- talking about our bodies will counteract all the chatter of the world telling them that their own bodies are probably faulty.

I won't disrespect my body by using disparaging adjectives in the presence of my kids: flabby, ugly, pale or fat. I'll speak affirmations to myself and everyone around me. I will not speak judgment about another person's size or shape, not even my own.

And when my daughter asks me, "Why is your tummy so soft?" I'll smile and say that it's because I needed a soft place to grow my babies, instead of using words that tell her I'm ashamed of myself.

I'll take us to the kitchen, and we'll make snacks of fresh fruits and veggies and talk about how they help our bodies to be healthy and strong. I'll run on the grass with her, feeling my own muscles stretch and burn.

One day, when the barrage of societal images start encroaching, hopefully my daughters will have a fighting chance of loving their bodies.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog,