I took ballet as a kid for ten years.
From the time I was two-years-old until I was twelve, I spent several days a week perfecting my pliés and pirouettes and arabesques and revoltades.
I might have even been good, too, but I’ll never know.
Because I quit.
Because I was a stupid pre-teenager. It was too hard, too time-consuming. And there was a little not-allowed-to-wear-underpants-underneath-the-leotard situation.
But mostly, I quit because of my body. At age twelve, my body began changing—it was too large in some places and too small in other places. I was, like many girls are before they grow into their women-bodies—the bodies that will one day grow their babies, a wee bit awkward.
Apparently, and unfortunately, I'm not alone in this. Six out of ten girls avoid activities because they feel badly about the way they look.
When my oldest daughter was born and I heard that lovely “It’s a girl!” announcement, the first thing I said was, “God, I can’t wait to put her in a tutu.” Actually, that’s kind of a lie. The first thing I said was actually, “GOD SHE LOOKS LIKE MY MOM!” But moments later, I really did say that thing about the tutu. And I stayed true to my word. Girl was in a tutu almost before she could speak.
She is my mini me. She likes so much of what I like—biking, cookie dough, Dawson's Creek reruns, The Lumineers, orange peppers, Bath & Body Works. She dislikes so much of what I dislike—getting up early, the texture of certain fruit, going to the park, taking pills.
She looks like me; she's built like me.
Once, just once, we had the conversation I worried about the minute I became the mama to a daughter:
"Mama, I hate my body."
"My friends are all so tall and thin. I am short and stout, like the little teapot."
"We are all built differently, my love. You are the perfect you that you can be."
"Hrm. I don't know if you are right."
"Do you exercise?"
"Of course. I bike and swim and dance and plank and play basketball and walk to and from school and jump on the trampoline and I'm thinking of trying out for track and field."
"Do you eat a lot of foods that are good for you?"
"Of course. I love peppers and broccoli and green beans and artichokes and asparagus."
"Then that is all that matters. If you treat your body the way it should be treated, your body will grow into what it should be—a perfect woman."
I don't want her to quit like I did. She's so good. 6 out of 10 girls avoiding activities. 6 out of 10. 6 out of 10! I don't want my daughter to be one of the six. Research shows, though, that when girls have positive role models at home—often mom—they tend to be less likely to let their anxieties get the better of them.
Her body does amazing things—she can pop and lock and shake and shimmy and whatever those young kids are doing these days.
And there are moments when she's on that dance floor, and I'm sure that she's flying.
I want her to know that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. It's my job as her mother—as an unstoppable mom for my unstoppable girls—to remind her of this and to not make the same mistakes that kept me from pursuing something I loved, something I could have been amazing at.
Her body is her body, And it's a body that's meant to dance. To fly. To be celebrated. To wear a tutu if she wants.
Not to quit.