There are days when I stand in front of the mirror uttering words like “fat,” “disgusting” and “gross.” But I’ve got to stop.
No, it’s not to protect my daughter’s self-image—I don’t have a daughter. It’s to protect me. But most importantly, it’s for my son.
Growing up, I was taught that women should be small, skinny and thin; not because my mom was superficial or vain, but because this is what she herself was taught by her family.
When my grandmother called, she sometimes asked, “How’s your weight?” I used to think this was normal, but now I know it’s not. Now I know it’s one of the reasons I struggle to feel good about the body I have.
The other reason I struggle is because I used to compete in figure skating, a sport in which women should stay small and somewhat childlike. Once, not knowing I was in the bathroom stall, a judge started talking about me to her colleague: “She’s good now, but wait until she goes through puberty.” So, at age 15, when I did go through puberty, I resented every bit of it. Curves made jumps harder and made me look heavier on the ice. Curves certainly didn’t win medals.
These are the kinds of stories most of us have in our pasts—so much so that even as years pass and we come into our own as adults, they leave their mark on us.
I don’t remember the last time my grandma has asked about my weight, and it’s been almost 20 years since the skating days. Yet, the feeling that my body is fat, disgusting or gross sometimes persists—especially when I’m tired and emotionally run-down. Most of the time, I think I look strong and fit, but there are those moments in front of the mirror when those not-so-nice words come to mind and mouth.
I know I need to stop with the negative self-talk. It hurts me, and I don’t deserve it. No one does.
And ultimately, it will hurt my son. I’m not so much worried that he’ll grow up with a body image problem, although he might.
It’s that I worry my son will impose a distortion of what a woman should be on the women he knows in his life. The comments we hear from our moms and grandmas etch themselves into our consciousness. But so do the times we overhear men—bosses, friends, even dads—talk disparagingly about women’s bodies.
As his mom, it’s my job to make sure my son doesn’t judge a woman’s worth based on her body type. I don’t want him to be another white male who tries to keep women “small.”
Because we know that all this policing of our flesh is not just about being small in the literal sense, but also about keeping women small: less visible, less included and less valued. It all goes hand in hand.
So when I stand in front of the mirror with my toddler by my side, I need to watch my mind and my mouth.
My son’s idea of what a woman should be starts with me.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.