My Dearest Girl,
Last week, I arrived earlier than normal to pick you up from swim practice. You weren't expecting me so soon and didn't notice when I came upon you and your friends playing together on the big, grassy lawn outside the pool.
I stood there watching as each of you took turns demonstrating your cartwheels for the other. With the sun setting behind you and your wet hair whipping around, I felt a smile spread across my face as you flipped your body this way and that, jumping for joy, and squealing in delight.
Seeing you there, so free and comfortable in your own skin, made me wish I could somehow hold at bay all the messages that I know are coming your way.
You see, while you already know that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and that your friend Chloe would rather have a Barbie while Jack wants Spiderman, you haven't yet realized -- or even become aware of -- all that our culture has to say about how your body should look or what its shape says about you.
The other day, as I held your sweet, soft, little hand in mine at the supermarket, instead of cursing them like I usually do, I found myself silently thanking the Kit-Kat bars and the Reese's peanut butter cups that lined the checkout. To your 8-year-old eyes, they were far more appealing and interesting than the sea of the magazines that surrounded us, each asserting what you and I should want for our bodies:
Sculpt Tighter Abs by Summer
Attack Cellulite and Makeover Your Thighs
Look Hot From Behind
My precious girl, I started out just like you. My body was not even a thought. It was simply the thing that allowed me to play tag and hide and seek with my friends, to swim until my fingers shriveled and my hair turned green, to ride my bike until the moon came out, and to race with my older brother and his friends to prove my worth.
At some point, though, that all changed. When I was only a few years older than you, I bought into everything that society was selling. No longer was my body crafted to support all that I wanted to do. Instead, it became a thing to perfect, fix, improve, and refine. Depending on the number on the scale or the size on the tag, it was an object to either be admired or hated. Its shape defined my value and self-worth. Above all else, its form was prized over its function.
For years -- no decades -- while I was busy trying to shrink this or fit into that, much of what my body was actually offering me went unnoticed. I overlooked the fact that it was these two feet that walked the streets of Europe, allowing me to experience cultures beyond my own. It was this body that your dad held as we danced our first dance on our wedding day. And this is the body that gave life to you and your brother. In this body, I biked in the name of charity, hiked mountains, walked coastlines, and sat quietly with you when you needed to feel me close.
When I started running these past few years, I found my body again. It must have happened over time, but one day I realized I no longer had an interest in what my legs looked like. I didn't care if they had cellulite or spider veins, saddlebags or sagging knees. Instead, I marveled at what they could do. The day they carried me through an 18-mile training run and into the deepest part of the trail that I had never reached before, I knew that I would never again regard my body as a mere ornament.
My dear girl, my wish for you is that you live a life in relationship with your body, not divorced from it. See it for what it is; a container to hold the beautiful spirit that lives in you; a vessel to experience all that this life has to offer. Don't waste a single second trying to alter it for the sake of appearance alone. Instead, focus on what it can do, the places it can take you, and the experiences it can unlock.
I love you with my whole heart,