Setting an Example?

I’ve been running recently, as I am registered to run a half marathon in less than two months and training is necessary for me to prevent death during this endeavor. Running is a great time to think, and the topic that often enters my mind during my runs is, “Why am I doing this again?” I know that the easy answer is because I paid over $100 for the privilege of running through the streets of Seattle, but there are actually more reasons than that. One reason is to get in better shape. I used to be someone who was at the gym everyday during the week and running the streets of my hometown on the weekends. I was addicted to spinning class and would attend classes 4-5 days each week during law school. Just a couple years ago my husband and I trained for and rode 200 miles on our bikes from Seattle to Portland. Interestingly enough I found out I was pregnant just two days after that ride. Place riding a bike 200 miles in one weekend on the list of things not to do while pregnant, but perfectly acceptable if you are pregnant but just didn’t know it yet. This list includes such things as binge drinking, rock climbing, smoking, roller coasters, etc.

With that surprise pregnancy came a dramatic decrease in my physical fitness. Pregnancy is exhausting, even in the very beginning, and that combined with being a little burnt out from all of the bike riding gave me a great excuse to take a break from exercise. I still went to the gym and did the elliptical and some light weight training, but with nowhere near the intensity I used to exercise. I imagined that after I had the baby I would jump right back into a routine. I would be one of those moms dropping her baby off at the nursery every morning and joining all sorts of group exercise classes. This never really happened. My workouts were sporadic and often interrupted by a nice girl from the nursery coming to tell me my child was crying uncontrollably and that they had tried everything to get her to calm down.
I started running after my daughter’s first birthday, but soon found out I was pregnant again. I was not fit enough to continue running while pregnant, so I regressed back to less frequent, less challenging workouts. So, here I am with two kids and ready to be fit again.
The other reason I am really trying to commit this time is to be a good example to my daughter. She may never want to run a half marathon, but I would like her to have memories of her mommy exercising regularly. Not exercising to lose weight, but exercising because it is healthy and feels good. Believe it or not, weight loss is not a goal. I have not had any trouble losing more than the baby weight I gained with either pregnancy. I am a great example of thin not equaling healthy.
I’ve recently read a few articles and book reviews about raising little girls and the dangers of Barbie and princesses and what lessons they teach. Also, the risk of too much sexualization of little girls in the form of painting their nails and letting them dress inappropriately. As if raising children is not challenging enough, now we have to worry about Disney princesses sending our daughters the wrong message about how Prince Charming is their only salvation. I think the risk has been exaggerated by people who want to sell books, but it does make me think about my influence on my daughter and the example I set for her.
I don’t think that all of the things I do now will all have a direct impact on how my daughter acts as a teenager and adult. I cannot act a certain way and expect that she will do the same. There are behaviors she will emulate, there are behaviors of which she will adopt the complete opposite, and there are things I do that may only have a subtle impact one way or the other. All I know for sure is that I am the woman in her life everyday and there is a good chance that what I do and say will impact her as she gets older.
Women and girls these days have a tough road to navigate when it comes to body image. Every picture we see in magazines has been airbrushed and photoshopped. I recently read an article in the New York Times regarding parents having the option to edit and “enhance” their child’s school picture. The examples in the article ran the gamut from removing a black eye the child got the day before, to actually slimming down a child’s nose or removing a birth mark. Women are influenced by other women who put their physical appearance first on their list of priorities and will do anything to maintain it.
There have been many periods in my life when I spent more time than I care to admit thinking about what I ate and how many calories I consumed versus how many I burned. I exercised because I wanted to lose weight, and rarely got a lot of enjoyment out of it. I didn’t have an eating disorder, but went through phases of what I would classify as disordered eating. It wasn’t until about seven or so years ago that I really stopped thinking about food and exercise that way. It was a gradual process, but I no longer count calories at all or deny myself certain foods because they are “unhealthy.” I can’t remember the last time I ate something and then thought about how much I would need to exercise to make it like I never ate it. Now I eat whatever I want and use common sense. Few people get to thirty years old without knowing generally what foods are good and what foods are bad. I eat whatever I want and rarely go overboard. I’m not always the healthiest person in the world, but I don’t feel guilty about it. I cook with real butter and use whole milk in my cereal and real sugar in my coffee and I do it all in moderation. I read labels for things like fiber and sodium rather than fat and calories.
Now, years ago I might have read something like this and thought, “So what? Does she think she’s better than me because she isn’t worried about her weight?” I would have thought that because I was insecure about the fact that I was worried about my weight and spent too much time thinking about food and calories. The truth is there are so many more things to think about and worry about. Like what kind of woman my daughter will become and whether she will struggle with body image. I hope she avoids the issue completely, but I realize that is unlikely when we live in a world where so much emphasis is put on looking a certain way. In a world where other women have actually expressed a desire to breastfeed their children mainly because it will help them lose weight faster. I can also worry about whether painting her nails or letting her wear a two piece bathing suit or buying her a Barbie doll is going to screw her up in a way that most women I know in my generation seem to have avoided.
So I run. I will train for and run a half marathon in June and I will make sure there are several pictures taken of me with my children. So that even if they don’t remember, they will think they do because we’ve looked at the pictures so many times. I will hope that in addition to getting in shape and feeling good, I will plant the seed in my daughter’s mind that exercise can be fun and make you feel good about yourself because you are accomplishing something, not because you burned enough calories to erase the Ben & Jerry’s from the night before.
By the way, I am running with an amazing group here in Washington that was founded as a living memorial to the service and sacrifice of soldiers. This group is Wear Blue: Run to Remember. Check it out!