Our First Issue with Body Image

Last week, Gracie got the most adorable two piece bathing suit from one of her besties for her birthday. She was super excited when she got it because it also came with really cute sunglasses that matched. Plus, we are kicking off beach and pool season around here, so new bathing suits are in high demand ’round these parts.

A few days after the bathing suit gift, our family went to the beach for the day. Knowing how excited she had been about it, I laid out Gracie’s new bathing suit for her to wear. Five minutes later, she comes running down to my bedroom in her bathing suit, just about near tears.

“Mommy!” she cried. “This top is too small!”

“No, sweetheart. It’s just not a tankini. It’s a two-piece. That’s the way it’s supposed to fit.”

“With my belly showing???” she shrieked.

“Yes, pumpkin. It’s just a bathing suit.”

Gracie went back to her bedroom and I continued to get dressed, but a few minutes later, I heard soft sniffles coming from her bedroom. I walked down to find her sitting in the middle of her bedroom floor, holding her bathing suit in her hands, crying.

“What’s wrong, Gracie?” I asked.

“I don’t want to wear this bathing suit!” she said. “Do I have to wear it?”

I was completely shocked. She had been so excited about the bathing suit when she got it. I didn’t expect such a strong reaction to it! But I told her that, of course, she didn’t have to wear anything that made her uncomfortable. She seemed relieved at that and instead put on one of her tankinis.

We were trying to get out the door, so I didn’t think too much about the bathing suit instance until we got in the car and I had some time to think on it. I have started this new keto diet, but have been so careful not to mention it in front of the kids, for fear of situations just like this one. Could she have overheard me at some point? Maybe she was uncomfortable showing her belly because I only wore tankinis and didn’t show my belly? I filed that away under conversations to have with her later and we went on to have a really great beach day.

A few days later, we were getting on bathing suits to go swimming in our pool and Gracie came bouncing into my bedroom, happy as a clam, wearing her new two-piece bathing suit.

“Don’t you love this bathing suit?” she asked me, prancing around.

I stood there for a minute, not completely sure I wasn’t having some kind of psychotic episode.

“Uhhh…” I said carefully. “I do love that bathing suit. Do YOU love that bathing suit?”

“I definitely do! Especially at the house because no one can see my big freckle,” and then she giggled and ran out of my bedroom to the pool.

And my heart fell a little bit. My beautiful, confident, bright, shining Gracie was embarrassed by her appearance. (sigh) I thought we had a little more time until this started, but here we are. And it just breaks my heart.

She has had this little mole on her stomach since she was born. A few years ago, we started going to the dermatologist once a year to have it checked, just to be sure it was safe. Every year, the dermatologist says that it is safe and normal. She mentioned this past summer when we went that it could be removed, if Gracie ever wanted it to be. But I really didn’t think that would be an issue at eight years old.

We have no plans to have it removed right now, but that’s really not what concerns me about the whole bathing suit incident. It’s that Gracie wanted to hide something that she felt wasn’t pretty enough. Oh, sweet Gracie.

That afternoon, the boys had gone back inside and Gracie and me pulled our hammock out into the shade of the palm trees for an afternoon nap. While we were hanging there, I figured it was as good a time as ever to talk about it. So, I said, “You know, Gracie. Lots of girls wear two piece bathing suits. I just don’t wear one because I don’t feel comfortable in them. But that doesn’t mean you can’t wear them.”

“I know,” she said, swinging slowly and looking up into the palms. “I like two piece bathing suits. I just don’t want people to see my freckle on my stomach.”

“Really?” I said, acting very surprised. “I love that freckle on your tummy!”

“You do?” she said laughing.

“Heck yeah! When you were a baby, it’s how I knew who you were because all babies look alike, but no one had your freckle! Plus, I have freckles all over my body, but I don’t have any that look like yours. Actually, no one does. Freckles are like fingerprints. No one has the same ones.”

She thought about it for a minute and then started poking at her freckle to get a better look at it. “Yeah, I haven’t seen one like this on anyone else,” she said. But you could tell that her tone really meant, “I don’t look like everyone else.”

And so I said, “Of course no one else has one like this! I bet no one else has a birthmark in the shape of Africa on their thigh, either!” And I rolled over a little to show her my birthmark.

She giggled a little bit and then pointed out another birthmark on my other leg. And then one on her arm. “These are all different colors,” she said.

“Yep,” I responded. “And different shapes, too. Like fingerprints.”

“Hmmm…” she said. And then she moved on and started talking about some outrageous slight Bean had made against her earlier in the pool.

And life went on.

But the next day when Gracie went over to a friend’s house to swim, I almost fell over when she came downstairs wearing her two piece! She didn’t say anything to me and so I just nonchalantly said, “Love that suit, Gracie Girl!” and we life went on again.

When the kids were infants and toddlers, I worried that the mistakes I made would cause serious injury to them. From feedings, to illnesses, to safety, life felt like one giant death trap to me for a while. But as my kids have gotten a little older, my parenting fears have changed with them. Now, I worry more about their insides than their outsides. Am I giving them confidence? Are they kind? Do they love God? Are they happy? And those fears seem to be so much heavier because now my experiences and interactions with my children are actually shaping them. Not just into people, but into individuals with thoughts and ideas and emotions that can become so very powerful in their lives now and in the future.

It’s no wonder I pray so much more for them now than I did when they were little! That’s such a weight to carry as a parent!

I’m sure more body issues will rear their ugly heads over the next few years with Gracie and maybe even with Bean, too. For now, I will learn to love myself out loud in front of my kids because, like most parenting areas, setting the example is usually the first step. But I will also love my kids out loud, too. I will love their wild hair and their stinky feet and their pot bellies and their freckles and dimples and moles and whatever else I can find to love on. So that, one day, they will learn to love on themselves, too.

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