I’ve always heard that having a daughter is different from a son.
But it wasn’t until my baby girl arrived, after I already had two boys, that I truly understood.
Having a daughter has forced me to make a very deliberate shift.
The whole “do as I say, not as I do” does not work with children, especially girls.
I realized that I needed to start obsessing about not obsessing. If I succeed at this, then by her first birthday I should be in a better place so she will never see that self-loathing that is ingrained in me and so many of the women I know.
I made a promise: I will no longer disparage myself. I will not criticize my post-pregnancy body. I will not bemoan my weight. I will stop being disappointed when I look in the mirror. I refuse to give my daughter a complex over her looks — specifically her weight.
I know how a weight obsession can happen, and know it firsthand. We females are observant creatures, capable of absorbing everything we see. The whole “do as I say, not as I do” does not work with children, especially girls.
Thirty years later, I’m still recovering from watching my mother torture herself over her weight. She used diet pills. Food journals. Constantly measured herself, weighed herself. She denied herself food and clothing she loved. Eventually she binged. She always hated herself.
My mother is a tremendous human being, but she unwittingly failed me in one big way. She caused a lifelong obsession with food and triggered terrible body-image issues.
I know my mother thought she was helping. When she was a child, she was a bit pudgy. Her mother always told her she was tall and carried it well. My mother resented that and wished her mom had encouraged her to lose weight.
No matter how thin I was, she always told me, “You could stand to lose five pounds.”
Even though I was an active and trim child, she had me follow Weight Watchers with her at the age of 8. I remember getting an Easter basket filled with “diet” desserts while my brothers got chocolate bunnies.
She certainly is not the only woman who has handed down her self-criticism. I recently heard a mom talk about how worried she was that her toddler daughter loved carbs. I witnessed another mom not allowing anyone to utter the word “fat” around her daughters yet openly discussing how she wants a tummy tuck in front of them.
If we mothers can’t love and accept ourselves, how can we expect our daughters to do so?
We may blame our body obsessions on magazines and celebrities, but it’s time to look at ourselves. If we mothers can’t love and accept ourselves, how can we expect our daughters to do so?
That question resonated with me after my daughter was born. Holding her while recovering in the hospital, I realized it was time for my spirit to recover. In eight short months, I’ve noticed a monumental shift. My obsessing is over. My quest for perfection has turned into simply working on mindful self-acceptance. I feel calm and free. I feel beautiful. I feel strong.
Here’s what I hope setting a healthy example will mean for my little girl:
That she will never count a calorie, or a point, or a carb.
That she will know food is both fuel and one of life’s great pleasures.
That she will eat dessert if she wants to.
That she will never starve herself to obtain some ridiculous ideal.
That she will understand that being healthy encompasses mind, body, and soul.
That she will never waste time or money on a diet book or workout craze.
That she will go for a run for no other purpose than to feel good.
That she will never cover up when going for a swim.
That she will never try to squeeze into the torture device known as Spanx.
That her happiness will not be tied to a scale or a dress size.
That she will be happy with what she sees when she looks in the mirror.
That she will never waste her time thinking about something as ridiculous as whether she’s the “right” size and weight.
She’ll need all of that time and energy for running the world.
On this issue I can speak with authority because I am a woman, a daughter, a sister.
And, at one time, I was a girl.