For as long as I can remember, I have had an ongoing battle with the mirror. I distinctly recall dropping out of dance class while in elementary school because I was too embarrassed to wear the leotard. As women, we are taught from an incredibly early age that our bodies should be the object of our own critique. As early as elementary school, I was enumerating the things about my body that I wanted to change in order to be closer to "perfect."
So as the years went on, I tried every fad diet — safe and unsafe alike. I restricted food. I over-exercised. I would wake up in the middle of the night to do the Cindy Crawford workout video one more time. I would go from 125 pounds down to 95 pounds and back again. Above all, I was never at ease with my reflection.
Not until I had daughters did it occur to me that if I did not get my body image under control then it was destined to be reflected back to me in my children. My darkest fear is that there will come a day when my strong, smart and creative, 6-year-old girls will see their bodies as the enemy.
I am terrified that these miracles that I have created might view themselves as anything less than that — a miracle. The media that surrounds us will do enough to break them down. And it starts early: have you ever seen a Disney princess that carries a few extra pounds? Do any of your daughters own that elusive plus-sized Barbie?
I knew I had to make a conscious effort to be a better role model to fortify them against all of the problematic lessons our culture teaches us. The first step was learning to love that person staring back at me in the mirror. Today I am a much healthier version of myself. But there are a few things that I still need to remind myself to stop saying in front of my daughters — so that they too can learn to love themselves and their bodies just as they are.
1. "This is a BAD picture of me."
Of course, we all have photos of ourselves that don't feature us at our best. There is no way to avoid being snapped from an unfortunate angle every now and again. But what I have learned is that what I look like is not as important as the memory the photo represents. By saying it is a "bad" photo, it takes away from the joy of togetherness that my children relive by looking at that keepsake. It also teaches my precious girls the "art" of critiquing themselves, automatically, which is something I hope they never learn as immediate instinct.
Instead, try to find one thing you like about the photo and focus on that. Before you know it, it will become automatic and flipping through albums can become truly enjoyable.
2. "This food is too FATTENING."
In moderation, no food is irreparably bad for you. Sure, some foods, especially those high in fat, are healthier than others, but all this label ("too fattening") does is create the idea that if you indulge, you have done something bad or shameful. This all contributes to the idea that ones weight is a reflection of their success and worth.
Instead, try to talk to your kids about what food does for your body and the importance of choosing foods that fuel you and make you feel good. Use language that makes their food choices empowering or an opportunity to something wonderful for their body. Suggest that we need to select meals that will "keep us going all day" or that "will give us enough energy to play!" And let them see me have a treat every now and again — because a slice of birthday cake is part of celebrating (you get the idea).
3. "I have NOTHING to wear."
Our kids are smart. Let's be clear about that. From a very young age, children pick up on innuendo. Having "nothing to wear" communicates to your kids that nothing looks good on you, and also generally teaches them not to appreciate their belongings. It is easy for their young eyes to see your closet overflowing with clothing, so why not try to teach them how to practice gratitude instead?
That doesn't mean you aren't entitled to feel crappy on a given day. So whenever possibly, try on outfits without an impressionable audience. Because remember: as kids, most of us wore what we liked and felt great about it — even if it was snow pants in June with a tie-dye tank top and cowboy hat. Clothing used to be an expression of your creativity. Let's let your daughters bask in that as long as possible before society shapes them into what we see on the pages of glossy magazines.
Take responsibility as a mother (or father!) and use the practice of self-acceptance as a way to help your children cultivate body positivity well into adulthood.