It may sound strange, but whenever people say to me, “Oh, you can eat whatever you want, you’re naturally thin,” I cringe.
I don’t want my daughters to hear this. I don’t want them to believe that such a thing as a naturally thin mom actually exists. I’m not even sure if it does. The inherent message in this saying is that weight and health are beyond our control — totally dependent on natural tendencies and have nothing to do with what we put into our bodies or what we do with them.
It’s this line of thought that has bred the only two assumptions made about very thin women: either we are naturally thin or we have an eating disorder.
The message to my daughters and, frankly, all women, when we hear phrases like this is that we have two options when it comes to our bodies. One: let it go, opt out. Let nature take its course and steer the body whichever direction it “naturally” goes. Or two: go to extreme lengths in order to maintain a certain weight, a mindset that can result in disordered eating. In other words, either you relax and go natural or you take control and get sick.
I totally get that there are different body types, bone structures, and physical tendencies, but within the wide spectrum of those (natural) varieties, there is a third option. Rather than letting nature bowl over us, I believe we can take control of our bodies without developing an eating disorder. And I believe the broader implications of this self-control spread into other areas of life and build other values I want my daughters to learn.
After giving birth to my third child, rather than letting nature take over, I took the reins. I started running. I kept running. I fell in love with the activity, and a big part of this love is because I value feeling strong and maintaining a healthy heart, muscles, and lungs. Running helps me do that. I want to be able to keep up with my teens on hikes and while swimming in the ocean and chasing sea turtles and whale sharks.
Running is hard work. My calves didn’t develop muscle tone naturally, I don’t cross the finish line in marathons naturally. I put in months of effort, sweat, tears, and even blood from lost toenails, blisters, and skinned knees. Running, and all the choices I make as a runner, not nature, has played a significant role in shaping my body. Just as my pregnancies (hello stretch marks and wider hips) and surgeries (hello scars) are, running is just one example of the choices I make that affect my body.
The value I want my daughters to learn is not one of being thin or of having a certain body ideal or expectation. I want to pass on the value of being strong, healthy, and confident. And I want them to know that strength, health, and confidence don’t always come “naturally.”
So that’s what we talk about when we discuss our bodies or when they have questions about running or about food. We talk about nutrition and health, strength, choices, goals, pleasure.
I want my daughters to learn the importance of being the boss, of being in charge of their own lives, including their bodies.
Because ultimately, this isn’t about weight.
This is about being their own authority in terms of their sexuality, their moral convictions, their finances, their work ethic, their faith choices … Of course things will happen to us as we go through life and there will be many things that are out of our control. We get sick, injured, lose jobs, lose loved ones, face trauma.