Yesterday I was having coffee with a friend of mine who has had a rough year. She and I both experience extreme anxiety and are in recovery from eating disorders.
We were sitting at a table, enjoying eachothers company and having a deep conversation about body image and mental illness. I was enjoying a warm, hearty Mocha (my new favourite beverage).
About half an hour after we arrived I spotted a young family. They sat at the table diagonal to ours. They had two beautiful girls who would both be under the age of six.
I was totally besotted by the beauty and innocence of their youngest daughter. Her legs dangled adorably over her chair. She was wearing green crocs that would fit into the palm of my hand. She had her blonde curls tied in a ponytail. She was bent over a colouring in book, her tongue poking out slightly as she vigourously moved her orange crayon back and forth.
This is an open letter I have written to their youngest daughter.
Hello little one,
I know I seem old and big now but once upon a time I was like you. A girl who loved colouring in. Who didn’t know what makeup was. Who never thought about her body or criticised her looks. I just lived. Day by day. Just like you.
One day you won’t be so little anymore. You will go to primary school and then high-school. You will grow and develop and change. Those green crocs you’re wearing now will be locked up in a drawer and replaced by high-heels. That free, innocent, vulnerable soul will become a distant and irretrievable memory.
As you grow, you will be subjected to a variety of messages. You will be taught, indirectly, that the way you body looks matters. You’ll be taught, indirectly, that some foods are ‘bad’. You will see people, probably women you admire, complain about their bodies and experiment with diets. You’ll be taught, indirectly, to care about what other people think.
You were not born hating or criticising you body but society may teach you that you should. And it is my responsibility to change that. You are constantly learning. You are picking up how big people move and talk. You replicate what you see because you’re still learning.
It is our responsibility as adults in the big world to develop positive and healthy habits within you. To do this we need to lead by example.
I was a little girl once sitting at a cafe scribbling in a colouring book. Food was sustenance and pleasure, it wasn’t dirty or wrong. Exercise was running around at the park, not sweating it out on a treadmill to lose a few kilos. My body was just a part of me and wasn’t there to be criticised or sexualised.
We, as a society, must lead by example. We must stop speaking negatively about our bodies. We must stopping connecting emotions and connotations to food. We must stop viewing exercise as a weight loss tool. We must start valuing people (men and women) for more than just their looks.
So, little one, I want you to know right now that you don’t need to change for anyone else. Your body will be exactly what it needs to be. Your body will be good to you but only if you don’t punish it. I want you to know that you don’t have to wear makeup if you don’t want to. I want you to know that you can ask questions when you’re curious, you can cry when you’re sad and expressing your opinion is never wrong. I want you to know that the way you look is only a part of who you are. There is so much more that makes you special.
I will be doing my best to make sure that you grow up in a better world.
All my love,