Yesterday, on a bitter cold November North Dakota morning, my 8-year-old daughter left for school in tears because her winter parka made her feel "fat."
The parka is darling, mind you. My daughter's mother is a very picky shopper...requiring an excellent price, bright colors, thick enough to keep my child warm in this tundra, yet cute enough to enjoy wearing for months, long enough to cover the tush, elastic around the wrist to lessen the snow that goes down the arm, fuzzy faux fur hoods...And because I'm so picky I can confidently assure my daughter, "Trust me. It's the best one."
It's darling. A fabulous Oshkosh B'gosh hot pink with white faux fur trim and all my requirements.
Not that the scenario yesterday had anything to do with the particulars of the parka, but I just want you, the reader, to know that the coat was indeed not the problem. And my daughter wasn't the problem. She's a sweet, confident, vibrant, active, strong girl.
The problem is that our society is so obsessed with "skinniness" that this lie of Satan has reached even our young children on the playground to the point that my daughter wants a "skinny" parka like "all the other girls" in the midst of our North Dakota winters. "But Mom, all the other girls have skinnier parkas...like parkas that don't cover their bottoms and aren't so puffy. Parkas that aren't so fat." (AKA...parkas that aren't actually parkas).
Can you imagine the women of three or four generations past...like my daughter's great-grandmothers...and how they would react if we told them that today a common concern of eight-year-olds on the playground in the midst of bitter winter was to look skinny in their parkas? Women of past generations would be shocked and disgusted and probably downright confused as to why in the world such a trite concern would move a young confident girl to tears as she left for school. (I mean, isn't a skinny parka an oxymoron?)
But this is our reality. This is the poison that is sinking it's teeth into our girls at younger and younger ages, infecting girls throughout childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and well into adulthood. It's the poison that haunts us throughout pregnancy and the years following child birth. Will it ever stop?
And friends, it really is poison, and we must treat it as such. We cannot brush it off as "a stage" or "a mood." If so, I've been living in this "stage" and "mood" for about 25 years, and likley so have you. No, it's poison.
Jesus said that "The thief has come to steal, kill, and destroy..." and this obsession with skinniness is clearly a tool of the thief (the enemy of our souls) as it's doing just that...it is stealing our daughters of their childhood. This winter, I want my daughter to sled and skate and throw snowballs and feel warm and lovely in her hotpink parka...and whether she looks "skinny" or "fat" should never have to even occur to her young mind.
When our daughters start to show signs that this poison is creeping into their minds we must do everything we can to refute the lie, to restore over and over and over her sense of beauty and strength and health. We must eradicate this "want of skinniness" from our daughter's vocabularies for certain, and hopefully their minds and hearts.
As a mother, I'm at just the beginning of this journey. I've seen it coming for a few months...I've noticed hints of the poison as my daughter refuses to wear regular-width jeans: "Only skinny jeans, Mom...I like to look skinny." And the infamous legging struggle has begun as I now require my girls to wear skirts or tunics with tight leggings, trying from a young age to instill in my girls a sense of modesty. "But Mom, all the other girls get to wear tight leggings without skirts....and I look skinnier that way..." So it's been coming. But yesterday was the first time that the fear of looking "fat" moved my daughter to tears.
So, I'm at the beginning here, but I'm not naive. And although it's still external in that her clothes and parkas are causing her to feel either skinny or fat, before long I know it will be internal..."I feel fat... or I feel skinny."
Also, I've had my own battles with body image, and now as I am soon turning 35 and my metabolism seems to be plummeting, it's a struggle still. So I know what's coming at my daughters. I know the poison that will infect their hearts and souls and minds. I know the dread of feeling fat and the superficial excitement of feeling "skinny."
Yes, I know the poison. I think almost all women know the poison. And friends, I hate it. Hate is a word we only allow in our house if we are talking about something that is actually from Satan, and friends, I hate this poisonous "want of skinniness" that is infecting my daughter. And my husband hates it. And as I mother, I am intent on fighting this battle for my daughter's soul.
And I think the battle is fiercer now than any of us moms can even imagine. When I was in high school we wore Russells. Remember baggy russells (or inside out!?)? In russells, no one could tell your width or weight. Now girls wear leggings. Everywhere. Leggings so tight that actually it appears that girls are walking around in thick footless tights with nothing on top of them. On the one hand, I'm glad that they feel confident, but on the other hand, you cannot tell me that wearing tights with nothing over them doesn't create a sense of insecurity...specifically for the girls who don't feel like they should or can wear tight leggings...imagine the insecurity they feel when "all the other girls" are walking around in skintight leggings? (Not even to mention the insecurity this brings our young men, to have all their female classmates in tight leggings...but that's another blog entirely).
And in addition to the legging trend, our kids have social media accounts in which they constantly see pictures of one another baring their skin...that was not the case for any other generation. It puts a pressure on our girls that we cannot imagine.
Yes, the battle is fiercer than it was for us. They can't fight it on their own.
So, as I've been processing this, I have a few thoughts on how to fight this battle for our daughters that I'd like to share. For those of you who are fighting this battle for your daughters alongside me, or for those of you who have gone ahead and guided your daughters through the battle, please chime into the conversation...where have you seen victory? Where have you experienced defeat?
1. Eradicate the word "skinny" from your household. Yesterday after my daughter came home from school I had her sit down on the couch with me for a talk. She told me that she "got used to" her parka because "Well, I caught a glimpse of myself in the window at recess, and actually I looked alot skinnier in my parka than I thought." I was thankful she decided to like her parka, no doubt. But there it was. That word. "I looked skinnier than I thought..."
So we talked. We talked about the word skinny, and how it literally means skin and bones...and if we only had skin and bones there's no way we could survive North Dakota winters. We talked about God's gift of muscle and fat for our bodies, which our bodies need. We discussed how skinniness should not be a goal or aspiration of anyone. For women who are naturally quite thin, God has still given their bodies fat and muscle, because God knows we need it.
All three of us girls in our house like our skinny jeans, but as we eradicate the word skinny from our household, it's time for us to start calling them narrow-legged jeans. It may seem extreme, but the poisonous battle is extreme too so I will err on the side of caution. Although there is nothing wrong with the actual word, the cultural connotation can certainly become destruction. So you may hear me compliment you on looking trim or strong or fit, but you will not hear me say that you look skinny.
2. Eradicate the word "fat" from your household. When we talk about animals, we can call it blubber. When we talk about healthy fats like olive oil and peanuts, we can call them "healthy fats"...as in a noun. If we must refer to cellulite, we can call it cellulite. But we will avoid the word fat, particularly the adjective. Again, although the word itself is totally benign, the cultural connotation is terribly destructive both in the inner mind and heart of a young girl (and boy) and also as an external insult from one person to another.
3. Encourage health, strength and fitness.
There's no reason to ignore the fact that we are in an obesity crisis as a county. We can give proper heed to this massive health concern without using the words fat and skinny. My husband and I both love to workout. I attend several strength and cardio classes at our gym each week. Our kids know that Mommy & Daddy exercise for strength and health, and so that in 25 years we can chase our grandchildren around the yard. Likewise, they know that after one treat from their halloween baskets they need to then choose a protein or fruit...Not because of fat or skinniness, but because of health.
4. Guard her heart.
Here's where this gets sticky. I know that many a mom will disagree with me. But I do believe there's a connection between how much skin we're showing and our heart condition. There's an insecurity that creeps into us as we bare more skin...even though baring skin seems to exclaim confidence, I believe it creates insecurity. And I refuse to knowingly create insecurity in my daughters. (As a sinful mom, I mistakenly create insecurity in my children all too often. But I will not do it knowingly.)
The Bible says "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (Proverbs 4:23). The problem is, my children are in fact children and cannot guard their own hearts. So, as a parent, I read that verse as, "Above all else, guard [your child's] heart, for it is the wellspring of [his/her] life."
So, part of guarding her heart means guarding her body. And guarding my daughter's body means not allowing them to show more skin than is healthy and wise...not allowing bikinis, not allowing skin-tight leggings unless worn with a tunic or a skirt, etc.
5. Build up her understanding of her beautiful body.
When we encourage our daughters to appropriately cover their bodies, it's not because their bodies are bad by any means. It's because of the great value of their bodies. "Your body is so beautiful that as a a means of honoring God's creation we are going to appropriately dress your body." As we train our daughters up in this from a young age it will be easier (though not easy) to continue instilling in the teen years. Immerse your daughter in Psalm 139:14:
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
And in that, emphasize to your daughter that though fashion can be used to highlight her beauty, no leggings or skinny jeans or parkas can either make her more beautiful than she already is or diminish her beauty. Fashion can either highlight or hide beauty...but it cannot create or ruin the true beauty that God made intrinsic to our daughters. (And this intrinsic beauty is not just internal...it's also external, physical beauty and that is good and right and designed by God.)
6. Pray, Pray, Pray
Although this poison spreads rapidly because of our culture, our battle is not with this culture. This is a spiritual battle. Your daughter's soul has a fierce enemy. Jesus calls him the great deceiver and father of lies. In 1 Peter 5:8 God calls him a "roaring lion looking for someone to devour." We cannot take him or his schemes lightly. It is poison.
I am absolutely convinced that one of Satan's primary attacks on humankind is to make women hate their own bodies. Why? Because the female body is the only vehicle that carries new life into this world. New image bearers of God come into this world through women's bodies. And Satan hates that. So, he has chosen to (successfully) make women hate their own bodies. And he starts this poison in childhood.
So I'm going to be fierce in prayer for my daughter. Not my daughter, Satan. She does not belong to you. God's truth is stronger than the lies of Satan. And God's truth for my daughter is that her body is fearfully and wonderfully made.
In the name of Jesus I will condemn Satan back to hell where he belongs and I will not let him speak lies to my daughter. Like a mama bear protects her young from the predator, so I will use prayer to protect my daughter from her predator.
7. Don't Ever Let Your Daughter Hear You Complain About Your Own Body
I've written before about our own struggles with body image as moms of daughters. But I'll just reiterate here that she's watching me. And while it's good for my daughter to see her mom exercising, making healthy food choices or sometimes turning down dessert, it can be destructive for her to see her mom analyzing the scale. I need to model appreciation for my body. My body gave me four healthy babies. My body has crossed the half marathon finish line three times. My body wakes up every day. I need to thank my body more often and curse it less (or never).
So, friends, I need your help. This is a battle that we need to fight together. Let's work together to protect our daughters from the poison of this enemy...this father of lies, this great deceiver, this roaring lion that's trying to devour our daughters.
As we're praying for our daughters, how about we pray for each other? Let's be honest and admit that we're not out of the woods yet ourselves.
Because when she starts to feel fat, mamas need to start praying fiercely.