My daughter is just shy of 5, but already I worry about the pressures she will feel to conform to a certain physical ideal, to be thin, and to be our culture’s perception of pretty. Like all parents, I hope to teach her many things in her childhood years, including that her body is strong even when it might feel weak, magical in what it can perform, constantly changing, and worth loving no matter what.
And as my boys enter a chapter where they aspire to build muscle, bulk up and match a certain male athletic ideal, and as they use their bodies for more competitive sports and their minds for more intellectual challenges, I want them to absorb this same message.
So to kick off the New Year in a healthy, positive way, I have written a letter to their bodies that perhaps they are still too young to deliver themselves, but someday I certainly hope they do.
Thank you for being my home. For loving me no matter what I do. For keeping me in one piece and recovering quickly even when I challenge you with trips, slips, falls, collisions, tackles, concussions, late nights of studying, too much sugar, and the germs that I encounter everywhere.
Thank you for protecting me from the many harsh and damaging chemicals, pollutants and substances in our world. For ditching the bad stuff you are given and employing the good.
Thank you for helping me to grow and get stronger every year. Thank you for balancing and righting me when I become sad, scared or discouraged. You never ask questions, and you are always there for me.
So to say thank you this New Year I will try my hardest to make more choices that benefit you.
I will try to sleep well so that you can rebuild the pieces that get broken or weary during a typical day. I will stretch and I will exercise to help you transport blood efficiently. I will eat lots of vegetables so you don’t have to work so hard to filter the pollution in the air I breathe or the chemicals in the candy I eat. I will drink many glasses of water so my spine and joints stay hydrated, my blood travels efficiently, and my nerves function correctly. I will eat protein to give me long-lasting energy, and healthful fats to help my brain function at its highest capacity. I will take lots of deep breaths so all of my cells receive the oxygen they need to do their jobs.
I will try to listen when you talk to me. When I yawn, I will recognize that you want me to sleep. When I ache, I will stop pushing you so vigorously. When I feel anxious, I will breathe deeply and slow down. When I feel angry, I will pause, acknowledge and respect my feelings. When I lack energy, I will drink water, eat healthful food and get some fresh air.
And since you love and take care of me no matter what, perhaps this year I could decide to love you back no matter what shape or size you are, no matter how much muscle or fat or bone you build, no matter how coordinated you are or are not, no matter how many pimples you produce, or how many bad hair days you have. I will love you and take care of you as much as you love and take care of me.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, January 7, 2016.