Here’s the second installment of a series on body image, reflecting the conversation that I initiated with several dozen women about their own experience.
After exploring how many of our own body image issues were often inherited from the significant women in our lives, I wanted to dig in to that crucial moment when we are faced with the reality of what we’ll pass on to our younger counterparts, especially our daughters.
The transmission of body image issues from one generation of women to the next is a loaded topic―to say the very least!―and so when women become mothers, becoming aware of this potential transmission can be quite an awakening.
When the child coming into the world is a girl, it can also be―despite all the joy linked to the event―a particularly jarring moment.
I was ecstatic to have a girl, but I was worried about all the scary shit in the world and how to make her strong enough. ―Min
I thought about all of the horrible things that happened to me, and how I would have to protect her against all of those potentials. ―Rosa
More than a one-time realization, the feeling tends to deepen as time goes, and as we’re faced with new thoughts and memories stemming from both our own experience and what we witness of contemporary culture.
The older she gets, the more nervous I get for her. The expectations set by the world are so tough. ―Shawna
I worry about the negative influences the world will inevitably throw at her and how she will fare. ―Maude
Often, it’s when we have a girl that we start to pay attention to the way we speak about ourselves, and how we behave when it comes to our own bodies. It’s this shift―going from being worried about scale weight to grasping the weight of the responsibility that befalls us when it comes to transmitting our baggage―that can have the most transformative effect.
I try not to let my physical appearance restrict me from doing things like swimming with her, because I know she doesn’t care and I would regret denying us those experiences because I was self conscious. ―Rebecca
I am constantly reminding myself to take compliments when they are given and not to over inspect myself in the mirror. I am also very careful about how I talk about foods and going to the gym. As she gets older I’m getting better at it so it’s actually getting easier and it has helped me as well. ―Selena
For those of us who not only grew up but lived the majority of our life in the throes of self-esteem and body image issues, one thing is very clear: we want our daughters to have a better experience than we did, and we know that we have a major part to play in making this difference.
I knew immediately that I did not want my daughter to grow up with any shame like I did. I changed my language, discussed with my spouse how we would never say a negative thing, call her strong, encourage her eating, etc. This meant I looked at my own body differently. I still have body image issues, but I am a lot more conscious of them, and of stopping the negative thought spirals. ―Suzie
One of my defense mechanisms is self-deprecating humor and I often used that to make comments about my appearance. When my daughter was born, I started to be VERY aware of everything that came out of my mouth. Would I want her to say this about herself? If the answer was no, then I kept my mouth shut. It took months, but I had successfully stopped talking poorly about my appearance purely because of her. Later, I found that I rarely even thought negative thoughts about my body anymore. I credit her with my much healthier body image and mindset. ―Emily
In these new practices, we can sometimes find something we weren’t quite looking for: a new way of seeing ourselves. Dr. Brené Brown dares us to be the adults that we want our children to become one day. The only way we can achieve this is through self-awareness and self-compassion.
One time days after birth I was changing my daughter’s diaper and I thought “Wow she’s so perfect! And nothing will ever change how perfect she is!”, and I realized then that I hadn’t seen myself as perfect but I was someone’s perfect child too. That opened my eyes to self-love and self-acceptance. ―MaryBeth
I want my daughter to know the gift she is to this world. I want her to see her light and shine it all over the damn place. But I realize that if I want that for her, I have to be that for her―model it, own it. And that can only begin with self-love. ―Laurie
As I’ve discussed here before, we need to remember that we have much more than our mere appearance to offer to the world. It’s more often than not when we choose to see ourselves—and others—through a new lens that we get to really appreciate our most unique gifts: creativity, compassion, attentiveness, loyalty, resilience, curiosity, thoughtfulness—the list goes on.
When someone says “Your daughter is so beautiful!” I can’t help but reply “She’s extremely intelligent and funny too!” ―Anik
This conversation can certainly go on, and definitely will on this platform. In the meantime, here are a few reminders to help you navigate towards a healthier body image, and model it too:
1. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR LANGUAGE
Which words to you use when speaking about other people’s bodies and your own? Are you making appearance a morally-loaded issue? The words we choose to speak have tremendous power―choose them wisely.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR THOUGHTS
Do you automatically start criticizing your body when something else is wrong? Explore how else you can frame how you feel―using the most descriptive language you can come up with―and see what insights it gives you as to what is really going on.
3. USE NEUTRAL STATEMENTS
Self-love and body embracement are a life practice. Believing that we can simply turn the switch from negative to positive is unrealistic. Find a way to navigate the middle: instead of thinking and saying negative things, what can you say that’s absolutely neutral?
4. GET GRATEFUL
Gratitude is a powerful tool which allows us to reframe our thoughts towards something much more constructive. What is there about your body that you can be grateful for right now? Sometimes we need to get creative here, but a heart that keeps on beating is always an absolutely beautiful thing.
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