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Parenting Traps

Future perfect

Can a clothing-optional policy teach her young girls to be comfortable as women?

By Jennifer Mattern
June 28, 2009
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I ain’t what I used to be.

But my daughters don’t know that. They can’t imagine me any other way -- this soft, paunchy creature they have come to refer to as “Mom.” I tell them to take a good look, that someday they are likely to look much like I do now. They laugh. Preposterous!

I grew up in a household where everyone’s jiggly bits were kept under wraps. Only once, when I was very young, do I remember taking a shower with my mother. I recall being shocked at the fullness of her breasts, the curves of her belly and thighs.

No. Not me.

And yet I am finding surprising grace now in being the let-it-all-hang-out mother of XX-chromosomed humans. In this all-female household, there are no locks on bathroom or bedroom doors. The three of us wander around in various states of undress. I brush my teeth in the buff while my younger daughter, who is 5, sits behind me on the toilet, singing to my rear end. My elder daughter, 8, sticks her head into the shower to ask me about the various “yuck” factors of puberty, about the feminist and anthropological ramifications of shaving my legs, about the real low-down on babies finding their way into their mommies’ bellies.

I tell my girls that what they are seeing when they see me is a real woman. I show them where their little fists and heels pressed against the skin of my belly when they were inside me. I explain nipples, birthmarks, sex. I shake my booty. They shake theirs. We are absurd. We are lovely.

Will they take some of this time with them, tuck it away in a safe place? It’s impossible to say for sure, but I can hope. I hope that they will always remember their mother as comfortable in her own skin -- and that someday that memory will help them be comfortable in theirs.

Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

See the story at boston.com/magazine and comment: How does your family handle nudity, and how has it affected your children’s body image?

In two weeks: Living green -- all of us

Last week: My daughter, “PartyGirl539”

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