Nearly every woman I have ever met has body image issues. Of the handful that love themselves and their bodies, they haven’t always been that way. I think it’s fairly safe to say that every woman in Western culture has had body image issues at some point in her life.
My mother doesn’t understand how I can possibly have body image issues – she thinks I am beautiful so what’s the problem?
The problem is growing up listening to everyone tell my mom I look just like her and hearing her reply, “Yeah, poor kid.” You don’t understand the idea of putting yourself down in the face of compliment when you’re a kid. Actually, I still don’t understand it – we need to stop doing that.
The problem is she can’t accept a gift any more than she can take a compliment – she honestly believes she’s not worthy of gifts and would like it far more to give them instead.
The problem is growing up with my mom constantly on a diet. She was always trying to lose weight. Be healthy was not the message. She’s been yo-yo dieting for at least twenty years.
The problem is she detested her own image so much I have almost no pictures of her after 1995. I took a picture of her walking next to my daughter down a nature trail – she said the picture was cute if weren’t for her.
All this and she has no clue how any of her three daughters have body image issues.
There’s been a few moments here and there, but for the most part, I have never really felt beautiful. I’m very pale and have lots of moles. I have worn glasses and braces. I have big thighs. I see overweight people wearing clothes that don’t fit well and my first thought is I hope that’s never me.
My daughter is three years old and beautiful. People say she looks just like me and I can’t see it. I see all my imperfections – the scars, the moles, the beginnings of wrinkles, I don’t see the beauty. I found some baby pictures of me the other day and terrible 80s haircut aside, we do look a lot alike.
I don’t want her to hate her name and make jokes about her mom being heavily medicated when signing the birth certificate. I don’t want my daughter to curse her high forehead or rounded face. She has a freckle on her lip, I don’t want her to envy the girls with clear skin. Her hair is a pretty shade of auburn, I don’t want her to wish it was lighter or darker. I don’t want her to look at pretty girls and see no resemblance to herself.
If the last 3 years are any indication, what I want has no effect on my daughter.
She is strong – nearly as physically capable as 5 year old brother. She does silly dances when she’s happy, usually a butt wiggle is involved. She doesn’t care when her hair’s a mess and her knees are dirty. She tells me in her adorable matter-of-fact voice that she’s cute. She laughs out loud when she farts and happily announces that she ‘tooted (thank you, nameless daycare teacher).’ She proudly shows me her belly when it’s particularly full. She likes how it feels when she has ponytails on either side of her head and she shakes her head no really fast. She tells rich, imaginative stories all the time.
All this is going to change – soon.
In two years, she’ll start kindergarten. Kids are cruel. They’ll tell her that her name is weird. They’ll ask what those dots are on her face and neck and arms. They’ll laugh at her dances. They’ll tell her girls don’t play in the dirt. They’ll make fun of her stories. They’ll tell her that her hair looks stupid. They won’t laugh at her jokes. She’ll start to realize she’s different, but she won’t know everyone feels like that.
As time goes on, she’ll notice which girls are popular and wonder what makes them different. She’ll change herself to be more like them, more accepted. She won’t believe me when I tell her she’s perfect just the way she is – I’m just mom and moms don’t know anything.
I cannot stop any of this from happening. It breaks my heart just to write it and know that it’s my daughter’s future.
So what’s a mom to do? How do I keep my daughter from the image and self-esteem issues I faced as a kid and continue to battle as an adult?
Actions speak louder than words. Kids pay far more attention and imitate more behavior than we realize. If I want my daughter to be proud of herself and her accomplishments, I need to be proud of mine. I need to show her how to own a compliment and still be humble. I need to wear shorts and tanktops with confidence. Be the one in front of the camera and not behind it. Eat to be healthy not skinny. Emphasize the importance of skills and abilities, not appearances. Kindness and charity over popularity.
If all I do is talk, she won’t believe me. I’m in my 30s and I don’t listen to a word of advice that comes out of my mother’s mouth – she’s not happy, she’s not healthy, she’s incapable of accepting a gift graciously and I’ve yet to hear anything other than defensiveness when discussing a past mistake. She doesn’t listen to me either.
So I exercise to achieve goals like a pull-up or a 5k under 30 minutes. I don’t look at the scale. I tell my kids that veggies help them grow. I thank people who tell me kind things. I have a lot to work on before I can confidently say I love myself, but I’m getting there. I owe it to my daughter to break the cycle of mother-related body image issues. And I owe it to myself to be happy.
Featured image courtesy of James Hartshorn and used under a Creative Commons License.