My six-year-old son loves to prod me in the belly. He loves talking about how soft it is, and he points out the silver stripes that stretch along each side.
When he does that, I always feel uncomfortable and I try to change the subject. It's easy to forget that kids aren't criticising us the way we criticise ourselves. My son doesn't think my belly is hideous. That's my baggage. He just thinks it's funny and squishy.
But one mum is showing us how to talk to our kids about stretch marks and the beauty of a woman's body in a Facebook post that has gone viral.
Allison Kimmey, creator of body positivity Facebook group BodiPosi, shared a post recently about a conversation she had with her daughter. The two had been lying by the pool in their swimmers when Allison's daughter asked her mum about the size of her belly and her stretch marks.
The conversation went like this:
"Her: 'Why is your tummy big Mama?'
Me: 'What do you mean baby?'
Her: 'These lines, Mama.' (Pointing to stretch marks on my tummy)
Me: 'Oh, those are my stretch marks!'
Her: 'Where do they come from?'"
It's around here that many mums – I'm ashamed to admit, myself included – would have become irritated or changed the subject. Or, even worse, some might have launched into negative body talk and called themselves fat or said they needed to lose weight.
But this was an opportunity to teach a young girl about positive body image, and Allison recognised it.
She went on:
"Me: 'Well, when I was a little older than you, I got some stripes when I grew really fast! And some of these stripes are from when I had you growing in my tummy.'
Her: Looking inquisitively.
Me: 'They are shiny and sparkly, aren't they pretty?'
Her: 'Yes, I like this one the best. It's so glittery. When can I get some?'
Me: 'Oh, you will get your glitter stripes when you get a little bit older baby!'"
Being taught that a woman's body is beautiful – starting with her mother – is a great start to a healthy body image for any young girl. Her body will go through myriad changes in her lifetime, and being taught to embrace those changes and wear her stories proudly on her body can only be a good thing.
Eating Disorders Victoria says that 15 per cent of women will have some form of eating disorder in their lifetime, and it is the third most common chronic illness in young women. It's never too early to teach girls to love themselves.
That is why Allison's message is so important. She ends her powerful post with a message to everyone:
"IT MATTERS HOW WE TALK TO OUR DAUGHTERS ABOUT OUR BODIES! They are listening. They are asking. And it is up to YOU to help them shape how they will feel about these things!"
I know the next time my son prods my belly, I will not be so quick to brush him away and change the subject. I'll take it as an opportunity to tell him how it got that way: that it carried three enormous, healthy babies. And to teach him and my daughters that every body is beautiful, and that they should wear their stories proudly on their bodies too.