Raising Daughters

by Cate on September 28, 2011

You were born a daughter.
You looked up to your mother.
You looked up to your father.
You looked up at everyone.

You wanted to be a princess.
You thought you were a princess.

You wanted to own a horse.
You wanted to be a horse.
You wanted your brother to be a horse.

You wanted to wear pink.
You never wanted to wear pink.

You wanted to be a Veterinarian.
You wanted to be President.
You wanted to be the President’s Veterinarian.

You were picked last for the team.
You were the best one on the team.
You refused to be on the team.

You wanted to be good in algebra.
You hid during algebra.

You wanted the boys to notice you.
You were afraid the boys would notice you.

You started to get acne.
You started to get breasts.
You started to get acne that was bigger than your breasts.
You wouldn’t wear a bra.
You couldn’t wait to wear a bra.
You couldn’t fit into a bra.

You didn’t like the way you looked.
You didn’t like the way your parents looked.

You didn’t want to grow up.

You had your first best friend.
You had your first date.
You had your second best friend.
You had your second first date.

You spent hours on the telephone.

You got kissed.
You got to kiss back.

You went to the prom.
You didn’t go to the prom.
You went to the prom with the wrong person.

You spent hours on the telephone.

You fell in love.
You fell in love.
You fell in love.

You lost your best friend.
You lost your other best friend.

You really fell in love.
You became a steady girlfriend.
You became a significant other.


Sooner or later, you start taking yourself seriously. You know when you need a break. You know when you need a rest. You know what to get worked up about and what to get rid of. And you know when it’s time to take care of yourself, for yourself. To do something that makes you stronger, faster, more complete.

Because you know it’s never too late to have a life. And never too late to change one.



I first read this Nike advertisement some twenty plus years ago. And tucked it away. It went through many, many moves with me, becoming more and more tattered along the way. It spoke volumes to me. Even then. About the trials and tribulations of being a girl. About the bad stuff. The good stuff. The stuff that only other girls will get. It encouraged. It rallied. It buoyed. It comforted. And, this is for Beth, it rocked.

Now, years later, being the Mom of a girl, that very rocky yet wonderful terrain lies ahead. Training bras. Boys. Crushes. Kisses. Puberty. Angst. Fights with best friends. Spin the bottle. Hours of homework. After-school jobs. SATs. Yikes.

Madeline Along for the Ride
But the one thing I am most conscious of, especially in terms of the responsibility when it comes to raising a daughter, is body image. I constantly tell her how adorable she is. Commend her on a smart choice. Encourage forgiveness. Thank her for making a kind gesture. Reward sharing. Hug and kiss her. Body image is heaps more than just how she feels about her physical body, but it’s the whole entire package. Mind, body, spirit. We highlight all the wonderful characteristics, not just a pretty girl in a pretty outfit. This is a child that spills over with confidence and self-esteem. But she even she has her moments…

Madeline and I and food are a trifecta in terms of battlegrounds. She eats to live. That’s it. I have never been a strong proponent of the Clean Plate Club. In fact, stuff like that drives me crazy. But she *does* need to eat to sustain, to grow, to thrive. And that’s where her and I differ. Most days, she has little to no interest in food. While I believe that kids largely eat when they need to, sometimes with her I’m not so sure. She goes through phases where she’ll wolf down a plate of food, or a phase where she’ll skip two meals (and eat only a yogurt and a glass of milk in between).

Madeline at Nathan's
She wants to be a Mommy and a Doctor when she grows up. A combination I adore.

“But Madeline, if you want to be a Mommy, you need to make sure to eat so you’re strong enough to hold your babies.”

I want to be a small Mommy.

It all came to a bit of a head Tuesday night.

We pulled into the driveway after running a quick errand. I turned off the car and started to gather my things before getting out.

“Mommy, am I fat?”

The question came out of nowhere.

It honestly took my breath away for a moment.

My mind raced at all the things I could say to make her revel in her little body. Her adorably perfect shape. And to not start the whole vicious body cycle image at such a tender young age.

“Madeline, honey, why would you even ask that?”


“You absolutely positively are not fat. And even if you were, you would still be perfect. If you were super tall or as tiny as a mouse. Purple. With pink polka dots. With no arms or six. Fat. Skinny. With glasses. Curly hair. Yellow hair. You are absolutely perfect just the way you are. Do you hear me? Do you understand?”

She nodded.

“Madeline, eating is really important. You need to eat so you can run and play on the playground. So your brain can be ready when you’re learning your letters in school and when you’re practicing to write your name. So you can help me with Maxwell. So you can play with Nick. Eating is how you feed your body. It gives you vitamins and all sorts of special things so you can grow.”

It honestly broke my heart that she would even ask that. I started indexing everything in my mind, trying to figure out why she would even ask.  Where the notion would even come from.

Mystic and I talked about it for a bit last night after the kids went to bed.  When I first mentioned it to him, he sat quietly on the couch for a moment.  Mind blown.  Appreciating the gravity of her question.  There are a few or twenty words on my imaginary checklist that we don’t say in this house, and fat and diet are certainly amongst the top of the list. While I occasionally have my own days where I battle with image, I honestly bend over backwards to not let it go past the recesses of my own mind. When we talk about exercise, it’s in terms of being good to our body, giving us more energy, being healthy, and having fun. Never about losing weight.

I encourage. I cheer. I applaud. I comfort. The little stuff. The big stuff. But everything. So that no matter what demons are outside our home, the kids walk out the front door feeling loved, cherished, and happy.

I love being a girl.  And being the mom to a girl, although anyone who knows me will tell you I always wanted a boy first.  For a variety of reasons, but I think Madeline is pretty lucky to have an older brother to look out for her.  But raising a girl?  It’s a pressure all of its own.  Not that raising a boy is any picnic.  But the challenge across the sexes is in raising children to be confident in themselves, in what they look like, in their abilities and talents, in their place not only in our family but in the world at large.  To be content.  And gracious.  And polite.  To be kind.  To do unto others.  Time and time again.  And to do for others.  And for themselves.  Far too often, are we kind to others but not as kind to ourselves.

Madeline is fearless and spirited like no other child I know.  I guess that’s why it crushes my heart just a little more that she, she of the brazen bawdy mouth, would ever question herself.  And so the journey continues.

The message I always come back to, for both kids, is that we can do anything that we set our minds to.  She can be a doctor and a mommy.  Nick can be in the CIA or Secret Service.  Or they can do neither.  They can become parents or not.  They can carve out a little quiet life for themselves.  Or they can live big and grand (and if you know Nick, you know which one he’s shooting for).

That no matter how they look or the choices they make, if they lead with their head and their heart, they will always, always, always be enough.  And as Nike so eloquently put it, to be significant to ourselves.  First and foremost.


* * * *

In case you’re interested in the back story on the Nike ad’s origins, the Seattle Times gave the low-down:

The copywriter on the women’s fitness account is 32-year-old Janet Champ, who started at the agency five years ago as a receptionist and in two years worked her way up to writing ads full time. She has a faux urinal hanging from her ficus (“I couldn’t put it on the door, because there are a lot of guys here and you never know what would happen”) and children’s books, including “Alice in Wonderland,” on her office bookshelf for inspiration.

Champ wanted to appeal to women who weren’t hard-core athletes. What struck her was how women always took responsibility and time for everyone else but themselves. She wanted to get the message across that women needed to take care of themselves, preferably in Nikes.

She decided to write the life story of a woman: an eight-page ad, which read, in part “You wanted boys to notice you. You were afraid the boys would notice you. You started to get acne. You started to get breasts. You started to get acne that was bigger than your breasts. … You became a significant other. You became significant to yourself.”

Nike worried that there was too much to read, Dolan said. A cardinal rule of advertising is to keep the copy short. So Nike and Wieden and Kennedy took a big chance.

Oprah Winfrey read the advertisement on television and cried.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie September 29, 2011 at 6:30 am

Great post and so true….


Joanne September 29, 2011 at 6:50 am

I’ll be honest, Madeline saying that she wants to be a small mommy definitely set off some anxiety in me, especially since I’ve been anorexic and have serious body image issues. I would never want that for her, especially since…she is perfect. Absolutely perfect. I think you handled it very well and I love that you place so much emphasis on NOT focusing on “skinny” or “fat”. My mom definitely did NOT do that…she’s very superficial…which is likely part of the reason why I have such issues. Just keep doing what you’re doing, Cate.


The Neighbor Wife September 29, 2011 at 9:37 am

I have an old Nike ad like this that I saved. I’ll have to pull it out. I don’t think it’s the same one. But, same style. Love it!


Meg September 29, 2011 at 1:40 pm

I’ve never seen that ad before and it definitely brought tears to my eyes! So true and powerful.

And I think you handled the situation with Madeline’s questioning very well. It bothers me to hear parents saying to their kids, “Oh, you look so cute! You’re such a beautiful girl!” That’s important to hear, sure, and everyone wants to feel beautiful — whatever that means to them. But when looks are praised over intelligence, over kindness, over creativity . . . well, that disturbs me.


bobolink September 29, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I am sure to tell my daughters (16 and 18) that they are strong, have cute figures and most importantly: if you aren’t beautiful inside, you can’t be beautiful outside. My 16 yr old recently thanked me for giving her a healthy self image. she is type 1 diabetic, thick and tall 5″10 and growing. she said i sit with these skinny minis, but I know I am strong because you’ve told me so. am I happy? yup.


shannon September 30, 2011 at 11:37 am

oh my gosh, my heart would’ve broken! but she is perfect, and i think how you handled it was prefect!


Brittney September 30, 2011 at 2:27 pm

This was incredibly touching. Long time lurker but I couldn’t hold it in for this one. Thanks so much for sharing ( and I don’t mean just this post) .


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