Last week I went shopping with my kids for new spring clothes. It was quite the Target spectacle. I hate their policy on limiting dressing room items to six, so I chose to find a nice quiet corner of the girls clothing department to change Olivia and Georgia. We had a huge pile to sort through and it took awhile because kids aren’t always “true to size” and neither is the Target clothing. I really had to try everything on them to see if it would fit.

By the time we were through, I was sweating, and we really didn’t completely finish trying everything on. There were several items we put back and we didn’t even take a stab at the swimsuits, which they also needed. We put back two sets of swimsuits the girls had picket out, all bikinis.

Truth be told I was glad we didn’t get to the swimsuits. I needed more time to figure that one out (and I’m sure Brent needed time for our wallet to cool off). Shopping for four kids, even at Target, can get pretty pricey.

I want my daughters to feel comfortable in their bodies and I want them to feel beautiful always. I practice telling them often how beautiful they are and when I see them admiring an outfit they picked out, I let them know that they look beautiful.

My daughters are bigger than some of the girls in their classes. They are tall and they are solid. Olivia is the tallest in her class and also the biggest. She isn’t petite but she isn’t obese. She seems to have just a wee bit of a tummy on her but she is a healthy eater and has lean arms and legs. Lately, Olivia has expanded her palate to include more vegetables and I am always impressed that she seems open to trying new foods.

Georgia is also a solid kid. She has always been in the 95% percentile for height and weight. She is a healthy eater and although she loathes vegetables, she loves fruits.

Rocky is my healthiest eater and my smallest child. She has always been petite and she is very interested in salad. Harper is just a chunky baby (I swear she is part avocado at this point) and pretty much loves to eat a little bit of everything.

Brent and I role model healthy eating habits and we are conscious about what the kids eat too. We try to keep the snacks to a minimum and although I do buy frozen yogurts and ice cream once in a while, I don’t stock the fridge with sweets, ever.

In general, I try to be careful of how much time I spend in the mirror and although my girls have already shown an interest in my makeup, I don’t always put it on and although I love taking care of how I look, I feel good that they don’t have a mother who is constantly primping and prepping.

When I was little I was very overweight and I remember feeling heart broken when my dad got mad at my mom for letting me get a monokini swimsuit (you know the ones that are like the bikini but the top attaches to the bottom at certain points). I remember hearing them arguing with one another about it and I felt so ashamed of my body. I was so devastated because I wanted so badly to be thin and wear the same kinds of suits my friends were wearing.

I look at my little daughters, who so badly wanted me to buy those bikinis, and I feel conflicted. I don’t want them to feel shame about their bodies, like I did, but sometimes I’m not sure if bikinis are appropriate for such young kids. Not only do I think about the over-sexualization of girls in the media and wonder about putting my 6 and 4 year-old in a bikini, but I also struggle with, like my parents obviously did, whether or not bikinis are for kids who don’t have the skinniest bodies. But then again…I don’t have the best body, yet I own a bikini (which trust me only comes out when I’m on vacation and certainly not when I’m at the gym pool).

When it comes down to it I think I’m just trying to protect my kids from what other people think or worse, what they might say. I continue to watch my girls with careful eyes and wish I could protect them from every snide remark or snicker that might come their way. Just yesterday, I sat by watching them play near some older girls at school. As I sat there, I watched the older girls look over at my oldest and whisper something to one another. For all I know they could have been saying, “I like her skirt”, but I felt afraid inside. I was afraid of what they might be whispering and even more afraid that there isn’t a thing I can do to stop it.

I pray for my kids every day that they not have to know the taunting and hurtful things that I experienced as a child growing up. I try my best to protect them by showing them love and teaching them how to be healthy, respectful, and above all, kind to others. I think I’m doing okay because my kids are the first ones to pay compliments to people and are constantly telling strangers they like their shoes, or their earrings, or their skirts. They are kind and they are observant.

I know I can’t protect them from scrutiny because there will be some. But I know I can raise them to see the beauty in every line, mark, or curve on their little bodies.  I can encourage healthy eating and exercise, keeping them enrolled in dance, gymnastics, and soccer. I can draw the line on clothes that are too short and too tight and while I haven’t completely decided on whether or not I will let them get a bikini, I know I will find a solution that allows them to feel good about what they are wearing regardless. Hopefully at the end of the day, whether they are wearing that bikini or not, it won’t matter what so-and-so kid says, because my girls will feel confident and they will feel beautiful, not just because I said so, but because they believe it to be so.