I was listening to a talk show on the radio last night and these two women were discussing what they would do if they had a daughter who came home and said, “Mom, I’m fat,” or “Kids at school are calling me fat,” etc. I have no idea if either of these women are actually mothers, but I was appalled that neither of them thought to tell their theoretical daughters, “You are beautiful just the way you are.” One said that she would say, “Let’s go on a diet and exercise together,” and the other said she would secretly put her child on a diet but not tell her that’s what she was doing.
I actually tried to call in as I was seething at this so-called advice, but apparently the show was prerecorded and not live. My first and foremost reaction was, “WTF?!?!?!” By putting a child on a diet, you are reinforcing her belief that there is something wrong with her and the way she looks, and setting her up for a lifetime of self-esteem issues and possibly eating disorders.
80% of 10-year-old American girls say they have been on a diet. The number one magic wish for young girls age 11-17 is to be thinner.
The last thing girls need is their own mothers reaffirming the cultural and societal myths and unrealistic expectations (even the models don’t really look the way they are digitally presented) about the way girls and women should look. Mom should be a safe place; the one person who loves us just the way we are, regardless of the things we perceive to be our own shortcomings. I hope that I am providing that safe place for my daughters, and have been delighted and surprised that they are my safe place as well.
My youngest daughter, Sofia, has helped me embrace the parts of my body that I perceive as deficits. I had to have an emergency c-section when she was born, and it was an extremely traumatic experience for me that took a long time to recover from, both physically and emotionally. I started to view my scar differently, though, when Sofia started asking questions about how she was born. I told her the story, and showed her my scar. In the years since, I smile whenever I overhear her telling a friend about her dramatic entrance into the world. The tone in which she tells it carries an underlying current of, “I was strong-willed and stubborn even BEFORE I was born, so much so that the doctor had to cut my mom open and pull me out. How AWESOME is that?!?!” She loves my scar, because it is a visible and potent reminder of how she came to be and she perceives it as a part of her fierce and fearless self. It is awesome. She has also helped me embrace my stretch marks and “squeezy” tummy, as she fondly refers to it. She asked me one day about the stretch marks, and I explained that I got them from carrying both her and her sister in my belly for nine months each. She was fascinated, but also a little concerned. “Do they hurt?” I told her no and she was relieved and simply rested her head on my tummy again and melted into the deep relaxation that can only come from resting on your mommy’s tummy.
I am not saying that we should tell our children to embrace junk food and laziness and the accompanying weight gain that will likely result. I’m saying that we need to teach our children that their worth lies within, not in the way they look. We need to let them know that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and all of them are beautiful, and we need to open their eyes to the fact that real women look nothing like the images we are bombarded with at every turn. We need to teach them this:
The scale can only give you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. That’s it. It cannot measure beauty, talent, purpose, life force, possibility, strength, or love. ~Steve Maraboli
I say this as someone who was fat. I lost a large amount of weight, and did I experience shame and self-loathing when I was bigger? Absolutely. BUT, I wasn’t able to change my life until I was able to accept myself and love myself just as I was. I had to deem myself worthy of embracing an active and healthy lifestyle and restoring my health. More than anything, this has been an internal journey of self-love, that happens to have external outcomes. I didn’t call my blog Balanced Eating Towards Hotness, although I admit to feeling hotter at this size than my old one. It’s Balanced Eating Towards Health, because that is the ultimate goal. Feeling fit, active, healthy, and comfortable in my own skin.
I’m so glad I get to model health for my daughters. I want them to have healthy relationships with themselves and with food, and to know that their worth comes from within. As they grow into adulthood I want them to know that they may be blessed with an awesome metabolism that allows them a little leeway in taking care of their health, or they may take after their mother and have underlying hormonal and/or metabolic issues that mean they have to put in a little more effort. I also want them to know that skinny doesn’t necessarily equal healthy. They should eat well as often as possible but splurge when they so desire, move in a way that they love, and accept that the way their body looks when they are doing those things to maintain their health is the way their body looks and the way it is meant to be. And that is beautiful.
Beth Leyba is a single mom to two amazing daughters: Mikaela, 15, and Sofia, 9. She blogs about health, exercise, nutrition, authenticity and finding radiance at The BETH Approach, and is currently pouring her passion and talent into being a Volunteer Coordinator for One Billion Rising; the global movement to end violence against women. She has an irrational love for the color turquoise, and her spirit animal is dragonfly. Read more from Beth on her Facebook, Blog, Twitter and on Pinterest.