This morning I was getting dressed and my daughter was her usual self, sitting on my bed cross-legged, watching and commenting at me getting dressed. She had that Disney princess dewey look in her eyes and said, “Mom you look so pretty on the outside and on the inside.”
“What makes someone pretty on the inside?” I asked, and she immediately responded saying, “Your love-ness!”
I just melted and basked in the proud parenting moment.
This was so particularly meaningful for me, because it wasn’t always this way. My mornings used to be really stressful. It would start with waking up and checking my stomach fat to see if I had gained or lost any weight from the day before. Then I’d slither into my bathroom and quickly shut the door. Stepping on the first scale, I was not satisfied with the number, so I moved to the second scale. And then repeated the process. The results of the scale would set my mood for the rest of the morning. If I didn’t like the results, I was hard on myself. I would wonder, what did I do to make the number go up?
And my innocent, sheltered child was slowly watching her mother degrade herself in the mirror day after day.
When she was born I wanted to protect her; I didn’t want her to have food and body issues like me. Terrified, I read loads of articles about it. I spoke to my pediatrician on how to give her a good healthy start in life. I fed her nourishing foods, we served well-balanced dinners, and made sure she had her fill of ice cream and gummy bears so she wouldn’t feel restricted. I had the very best intentions, and I could have read every book in the world about ensuring your child grows up happy and confident, but deep down I knew I needed to receive my own support and fix myself to be the role model that she deserves to have.
So I’ve been working on it. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. I tell myself I love my body in the mornings. They say when you say it enough you start to believe it. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? But not everything needs to be fake. I look at my body differently now, with soft and kind eyes. I notice all the good my body has done for me. I even wrote my body a love letter to help me switch my focus from the flaws and recognize the awesome parts of me. (And I so absolutely encourage you to write one to yourself!)
I’ve been doing pretty well and I’m trying to be a cheerleader of body positivity. And sometimes I get great wins. My daughter came home from school one day and at bath time casually mentioned to me that her belly looked big. Right away I said, “Isn’t it amazing? Our bellies are so smart! When we eat food, our belly knows to make some room so it grows and expands, and once it digests they deflate.”
But sometimes my disordered thoughts still get the best of me. One day recently while getting dressed, she watched as I pulled my shirt over my head and then very swiftly lifted my shirt back up to check my stomach, a.k.a. check out my fat. And that sweet innocent voice poked in: “Mom, why did you pick up your shirt after you already got dressed?” And that’s when I did the second thing I regretted that morning. I lied. I told her mommy had a mosquito bite on her belly and I was scratching it.
Will it ever go away? Or will my daughter grow up and write articles just like this one talking about how her mother struggled with a positive body image? Will she perform a poetry slam one day discussing the cycle she never chose? Because it is a cycle, passed from mothers to daughters. I don’t blame my mother for this; she never got to choose.
We are simply the results of thoughts shaped by louder voices. What I do know is that I don’t want it to continue, and it’s up to me to break my line. It is our responsibility as mothers to our daughters to understand, internalize, and act on it.
It is not an easy fight; the world is against us. The media is crashing at us like strong oceanic waves, but we must swim against the current. If I ever overheard someone telling my daughter the very things my inner critic says to me, I would lay in fetal position crying for her. How could you let yourself go like that these last few months? I can’t believe you got even bigger. I look so wide. I can’t wear that, my thighs are poking out. Just put down the fork, you shouldn’t have dessert.
These kinds of thoughts are poisonous, and although they may seem hidden away from our kids and only afflicting our own brain, they aren’t. They are noticed and watched by our very perceptive children. Every time you moan when you get dressed, every time you glance at your reflection and your eyes show some disappointment, you are being watched, observed, and analyzed. Your daughter wants to be just like you, so show yourself love and kindness and she can learn from your best self.
I may never completely quiet those body image demons in my head, but at least when she is older she can say my mom really struggled but she tried. If she is perceptive enough to pick up on my harsh thoughts, I hope she will notice my good days, too.