Why You Should NOT Teach Your Daughter To Love Her Body

Photo: WeHeartIt

Women have fierce opinions about their bodies these days. We're tired of the distasteful and unattainable ideals portrayed by the fashion, beauty, and entertainment industries.

We're standing up against unrealistic expectations and the effect they're having on the emerging generation of females.

We're spotting the digital alterations, poking holes in the silicone and identifying the scars of surgery. We're barking back against the old, ugly snarls of women conforming themselves to what men desire.

For years now we've been wading in the wake of some great, body-positivity movements that help redefine beauty for women. Regardless of a woman's shape and size, we can collectively agree that she ought to feel fabulous in her own skin.

While destroying the idea of femininity as a service to masculinity, and accepting bodies of all shapes and sizes as "good" or "beautiful" is a magnanimous step in the right direction, the phrase that keeps bobbing to the surface in all of this is "loving our bodies."

If our quest is to raise emboldened, confident females who are activists for gender equality and who won't stand for the patriarchal oppression of women, then "loving our bodies" is exactly the wrong way to do it.

I've seen countless articles on how to love our bodies, usually accompanied by photos of women, highlighting "flaws" they've come to adore. And now we want to pass these liberated ideals to the next generation.

You can now find all sorts of online lists and helpful tips for teaching your daughter, at a very young age, to love her body.

But this "body love" is a step backward — because loving our bodies is what got us into this cultural mess in the first place.

It's the love of our physical appearance, the over-valuing of it, the idolizing, glossing and fetishizing of bodies that caused the current looks-obsessed, toxic culture in the first place.

For a budding woman, "loving her body" and "loving herself" can too quickly become synonymous.

It's not the love of our bodies that needs to increase; it's our acceptance of what bodies actually are that needs to grow. The thing we've failed to do in the past (and also fail to do even with our liberated, non-bodyshaming) is to value age and to respect and honor the natural decline of our bodies.

Instead, we fight against it with every diet, exercise, cream, implant and scalpel we can muster. Bodies age and bodies fail.

We sit our daughters down before puberty and try to get them excited about their periods and their blooming bodies and how much they should love them and how lovely it is that they're finally becoming women with beautiful bodies.

But in essence, we're starting the clock against time and signing them up for a race they'll never win.

This education must include some sort of grounding in how bodies will continue to change.

Bodies are just bodies. They're vessels for the spirit, heart and mind, a casing for the part of us that's actually us, the part that you don't see at first glance.

The one thing we can count on is the deterioration of our physical body. So, why are we working so hard to get our daughters to love it?

Instead of teaching our daughters to love the only thing that will fail them, why don't we teach them to love the things that won't? Isn't that what we see when we look at them, and what we want them to see in themselves?

Everything about these positive "love your body" messages seem most applicable when you're twenty and carrying a few extra pounds that make you uncomfortable in a bikini, or thirty-nine and reconciling the stretch marks and sagging skin that pregnancy left behind.

But what about the woman who's 58 and battling breast cancer, craving the strength each day simply to make it to her chemotherapy treatment? Is her best bet for self-respect and confidence found in a love for her body?

Or, what about the woman who's always considered herself beautiful and now at 70 is convinced she needs a third facelift for the neck skin that keeps gathering below her chin? Does she still chit-chat with her girlfriends about how much she loves her body?

Or, what about a teenager recovering from a car accident, spending hours a day simply learning to walk again? Can she take a selfie with the hashtag #iLoveMyBody? Is she not eligible for self-acceptance?

No, the self-love and self-respect jig isn't up when you're past the age of a Hollywood leading lady, so it must go beyond the physical.

So, is the answer a hatred for the body? An archaic view that we should elevate the spirit and neglect the body? Of course not. We're complex creatures of mind, body and spirit. Our bodies give us strength and power, they give us a canvas for expression, they give us function, and they give us glorious pleasure and the ability to connect intimately with others.

And, of course, the sustaining and nurturing of our bodies keeps us alive and healthy, allowing for all the other aspects of us to flourish. But not everyone's body does these things, and not everyone can love their body for even these basic reasons of function and pleasure.

And the truth of the matter is that slowly, all bodies lose capacity.

Loving our bodies sends us backward in this evolvement of female valuation. It isolates the one thing that will eventually cease to do all the things we once loved it for doing.

So much of wellness and true self-acceptance is about not hiding behind your body or face. And the more we encourage the love of the things that are wasting away, the more we place value on that which is guaranteed to change.

This proves to every woman that our greatest fear is true: that we're only valued as long as we look beautiful and perform well.

If women have their value in things of true substance — their character, their beliefs, their voice and their heart  then their worth will never fade. But those bodies? Those are going downhill, sisters, no matter how hot you are at twenty-five.

Let's raise daughters to not love their bodies, but to love the parts of themselves and of others that can only get better with age.

Let's teach them to respect and nurture their bodies, but to give them space to do what gravity, age, time, and wisdom intended.

Let's teach them to stop running the race against time, and to embrace the present and welcome the future.

And let's live bold, beautiful lives in front of them  lives not defined by our physical appearance.