This past weekend, I drove up to Maine for my nieces’ cheerleading competition. Despite the
torture exhileration of being in a room with hundreds of screaming children (screaming in unison, is that worse?), both of my nieces did a wonderful job and I was so happy that I was able to see them compete.
But besides seeing them both out on that floor, beaming with delight as they went through their routines, there was one other thing that really stuck with me after the day was over. When my younger niece, who is 5, was finished with her teams performance, she came back into the crowd to hang out with us in the stands. At this point, she had taken off half of her cheerleading uniform and was just running around in her little “boy shorts”, or hot pants, as I was calling them. And the beautiful thing about it was, she had no qualms about running around in her tiny little shorts — she was just having fun with her friends, and frankly was more concerned with getting some of her sister’s candy than covering up her thighs.
That got me thinking about girls in general, and how most of us feel about our thighs. You couldn’t pay me to walk around in a crowded auditorium in tiny little hot pants, but this little five year old didn’t even give it a second thought. I wondered to myself if I would have felt comfortable doing that at her age, and the truth is, I just can’t remember back that far. But I can remember being about 10 and being embarrassed of my “thunder thighs” and jiggly butt, so what gives? At what age do little girls go from loving themselves to hating themselves, and why does it happen? Will my niece grow up to be a woman who is proud of her body, or in a few years will she end up like most of us, cowering behind cover-ups, hoping that nobody sees her cellulite or stretch marks?
And if little girls can run around without a second thought to what their legs look like in their short shorts, why is it that we, as most adult women, can’t do the same? When do we lose that ability to focus on life instead of a skewed body image?
If I could protect her from falling into the self-hate rabbit hole that many women end up in, I would. The problem is, I don’t have any idea how to do that. With all of social media, the infiltration of what girls “should” look like, I don’t have any idea how to keep the current generation of young girls from falling into the body-hate trap.
Now, true, they probably shouldn’t spend their entire adolescence in tiny hot pants, because that sends a different message after a certain age, and that’s another story all together. But to teach them to be completely unashamed of their body is a different, and important task. I think that as grown women who have contact with young girls, we have a duty to teach them to love their bodies, their beautiful uniqueness, and how to show them off unabashedly when it’s appropriate to do so.
We must teach them that when they’re teenagers and on the beach with their friends, there is no need to cover up their thighs and belly just because they may look a little bit different from their peers, or their belly may not be quite as flat as it was before they hit puberty. We need to teach them to focus on what’s really important — friends, family and enjoying life — and not what their stomach may look like when they sit in their bathing suit.
It would be a truly amazing thing if when little girls grew older, they did so without developing a keen hatred for their bodily imperfections or self perceived flaws. What if little girls never lost that mentality of their five year old self when it came to body insecurity? What if they could grow up and continue treating their body as what makes them uniquely wonderful, and not what makes them agonizingly different?
Today, try to live a little bit like the five year old version of yourself. Wear those proverbial hot pants, and wear them with pride (but unless you work at Hooters, you probably shouldn’t actually wear hot pants to work). When we allow ourselves to forget how our thighs look or how our upper arms look, we are able to focus our attention more on the things that really matter. I know we all think that we know better as we grow older, but sometimes I think we really need to step back and realize that maybe the kiddos can teach us a thing or two.