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Thanks to a brave notion I had after several cocktails on my 40th birthday, I decided that this would be the Year of No Fear. Fear No Triathlon. Fear No Swimsuit. Fear No Class with Pelvic Thrusting. True, I may be the most reluctant exerciser on earth (I'd rather sleep, eat ice cream standing up at the counter, even do my daughter's homework than get on the treadmill). But I'm proud to say I've run a marathon and a half, climbed a mountain on snowshoes, and learned how to stand on my head for the sake of proving to my children, Emily, 11, and Toby, 9, that finding your inner athlete is an adventure worth pursuing.
Instilling this kind of confidence is not a cakewalk. More of a 100-mile hike. Together, we watch videos for the Dove campaign on girls and body image on YouTube, download cool female vocalists singing "I Am Beautiful" to our iPods and track our steps on my Sony cell (it has a pedometer!). My approach with my own daughter replaces the "Be the ball" speeches from my coaches and the "You are so not fat" pep talks that I got as a kid. They were well-meaning but somewhat useless. In reality, I was judged by my weight, by my jeans label, and by the college I was attending. With Emily, I've taken body image beyond a discussion of loving your curves. Here's my logic when it comes to making Fit the New It. Hopefully, it will help you with your daughter -- and spawn a new generation of can-do girls.
1. Exercise together. Some days just do it for a good laugh. You should see the pileup on our yoga mats when we try to do a downward dog and then shift to the left for the next move. Crash. We fall in a heap and giggle. Other days we don't need to feel grounded, we need to blow off steam. We turn up the tunes and burn rubber on the treadmill.
2. Plan activities with bragging rights. The simple act of trekking to the top of a landmark or making it to the end of a long road is like a trophy. You can go to school or work and announce, "When we were out on this trail it started pouring, and we ran the half mile to the trailhead." Adrenaline-steeped stuff like this gives a kid what her brain is really craving: a getaway, a challenge, and a triumph -- an "I did it" moment.
3. Document your success. I have a photo of my kids and me holding up our medals just after we finished a one-mile race. We look at that picture often.
True empowerment doesn't come from gawking at celebs on the red carpet or shopping for new skinny jeans, although both are decent forms of entertainment. And saying "Love your body and all its flaws" is good advice, but it's not enough. You need to get active. Imagine yourself as a mom/athlete in training. Your Olympic potential might show up on the treadmill or the yoga mat or a vacation bike ride. You must get off your butt and get moving, and I say that in the nicest way. I am biking, swimming, and running these days, having created my own personal Mom-athon. I plan to get a gold medal and share the glory with Emily.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2008.