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Body image & the world of parenting

I’ll never forget the day my daughter walked into my bathroom, turned around to show me her behind and asked, “Do these jeans make my butt look fat?”

I’m sure my jaw hit the floor.  She was only four years old, and hearing her say those words broke my heart.  I knew where the question had come from, and I vowed that moment to do everything in my power to change her thinking.

What is body image? Wikipedia says: “Body image refers to a person’s perception of the aesthetics and sexual attractiveness of their own body.” I say it’s much deeper than that. We blame the media for today’s assumption of beauty. Back in the day, we had Marilyn Monroe and more recently, Tyra Banks, who’ve been replaced by much skinnier versions of beauty such as Kate Moss and Giselle Bundchen.

So, the question I’ve asked myself time and time again: how do we get so screwed up? Is it society? Or the media? Or is it much simpler than that? I think my childhood explains so much of what I now call my “issues.” I’ve been told I’m an attractive person, and I believe I am. Many of my physical attributes are desirable. Big lips. Large, distinctive green eyes. A smile that rarely goes unnoticed. All that and a figure that would’ve been applauded back in those Marilyn Monroe days. Yet, I grew up on diets…on different fads and physique-changing mentalities that have only further warped my already tarnished sense of self.

I remember in seventh grade my skin started to break out. Unfortunately, due to some not-so-great-genes, this trend continued beyond my period-starting and boob-growing days. My mom immediately put me on birth control to rein in both the insane breakouts and the out-of-control periods I was encountering. Immediately, I went from an average seventh-grade body to a grown up, much-bustier and more well-rounded body.

My mother had faced criticism from her mother all her life. So naturally, my mother also wanted me to be perfect. She explained that hair was 80% of your looks, so I focused much time on curling or fussing with my hair, trying to get the most beautiful style. She stressed the importance of makeup, so I never went a day without mascara and cover-up. I’ll never forget the day she said, “Honey, your butt is looking big.” And to be honest, it was. The birth control pills had kicked my hormones into over-drive, and my butt wasn’t the only thing growing.  In seventh grade, I went on my first diet. The cabbage soup diet was a big hit at the time, and my mother and I took it on like everyone else we knew. From then on, I began my yo-yo with weight-control, and the love-hate relationship I had with my body. The more I lost, the more control I had. And I sure loved control.

Some months I starved myself and when low-carb came out, it was a dream-come-true for the diet-addict! I watched my weight deteriorate along with my health, then bounce back up when I started eating normal again.

The main problem I have is wondering, honestly, would I have ever been overweight in the first place? I mean, yes, maybe I gained a few pounds due to the circumstances, but would I have actually ever been fat? Was there ever a true need to start dieting?  Was there a need for my mother to point out every time she saw a few extra pounds on my figure?  Did her constant criticism have more to do with my insecurities than anything else?

After years and years of working on myself, when I look in the mirror now, I see a strong, beautiful, curvy woman…most days. I still feel the pull from those other days when I want to pinch my fat roll, throw away the bread and swear off carbs. It’s okay that I’m messed up. I mean, I can handle that. I can control it.

What I can’t handle is thinking that my four-year-old little girl is going to have the same twisted thinking and lack of self-confidence I’ve battled my whole life.  I’ve watched my friends who have older girls make comments about their figures, and then catch their daughters also silently scrutinizing themselves in the mirror.  It’s a domino effect we need to stop before it starts.  Our girls look up to us as if we are the smartest and most brilliant people on earth. We need to reflect in ourselves the people we want them to become.

Ever since that day in the bathroom, I’ve made a promise to myself that I would shut my mouth when I want to say negative things about my body. I now urge my daughter to be happy with herself, no matter how she looks or what she weighs. I’m trying to inspire her to love her uniqueness and focus on her strengths, not so much what America considers her flaws.  I tell her every day how beautiful and smart she is, and she is.  I’m not apologetic when I change my clothes or get naked in front of her, no matter how much I feel the weight of the change from bearing two children.  I pretend to love my body and all it has encountered.  I’m determined to teach her to ignore the world and what it’s portraying as hot…and to create her own version of beauty…and rock it!


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