Mothers, Daughters and Body Image
Recently it was my daughter’s seventh birthday. I’ve taught her how to read and make her bed and blow bulles in her milk with a straw (I’m still regretting that one.) But I’m wondering what other things I’m teaching her without being aware? Body image, especially for girls, is such a tricky subject.
A video is making its way around the web about a woman named Taryn Brumfitt who hated her body, entered a bodybuilding competition, lost the weight and in her own words, “nothing changed.” She posted pictures of herself in an unusual order: her before pic was in a bikini and her after pic was her after she gained the weight back.
She is making a documentary about it. One of the most interesting things from the Kickstarter clip was when she asked women on the street to use one word to describer their body and so many women (of every size and shape) answered, “disgusting.” But one woman who was in a wheelchair answered, “soft and luscious.”
She wants to make the film because she doesn’t want her negative internal speech to impact her daughter. I’m interested to see the film when it’s done, and wonder if her choice of word for her own body description will change by the end of the movie. I hope she learns to love her body, no matter what size it is.
My experience with bodybuilding was similar, but with a different outcome. I too was overweight and hated my body, decided to do something radical about it by entering a bodybuilding competition, and lost 50 lbs. It’s two years later, I’ve kept the weight off, completely changed my lifestyle and I’m still bodybuilding (for fun now). It’s been a long process, but at 40 I’m finally comfortable in my skin (even if it is a little wrinkled now.)
I started training when my kids were young, ages 4 and 2, and I didn’t know how my weight loss would impact them. Right after my first show finished was the hardest; I wanted to binge eat and go back to my favorite foods, while at the same time, was terrified that I would gain the weight back. I didn’t want to send that message to my kids. I had yo-yo dieted for the past 17 years in the most unhealthy ways you could imagine and never wanted my daughter to see me do ridiculous things like starve myself just to look thinner. So I kept meeting with my trainer, even after the show, and continued clean eating six times a day. He kept reminding me, “This isn’t a diet and binge thing; this is a lifestyle.”
The process of preparing for the show changed me forever because for the first time I learned what real nutrition was. It also forced me to face some personal demons that were making me self-sabotage my own efforts. I still struggle with emotional eating from time-to-time, but now I have some tools in my pocket to get rid of stress through exercise, instead of food. I gained confidence from living a more disciplined lifestyle, so I’m now better able to speak up more when things are bothering me, rather than just eat angrily to avoid a difficult conversation.
Last weekend, my kids and I were making a scrapbook for a Father’s Day present, and we started looking at all the pictures on my computer. I forgot how little my kids were! We came across a picture of me (there weren’t many) and my daughter, Rylee, said, “Mom, you look totally different before you went to the gym. I don’t even recognize you!”
How would I respond to my daughter? Looking at the image of myself (and in this picture I was only about 20 lbs. over weight, not even close to my heaviest) with my flabby arms and double chin, all those words from the documentary filled my head as I cringed Frumpy. Chubby. Disgusting. But as I peered closer at the picture I didn’t focus on my face this time, but my daughter’s. She was smiling. She didn’t think I was frumpy, chubby or disgusting. She loved me then and she loves me now, because even though my body changed, I’m still me. And that’s when I knew what to say.
“You know, Rylee, your body changes a lot during your lifetime. Sometimes you’re bigger and sometimes you’re smaller and eventually you get wrinkles and gray hair. The important thing is not how you look, but who you are. Are you kind, are you generous, are you helpful – those are the things that matter. That said, you only have one body, and you should treat it well. That’s why I always bug you to eat your green beans and balance out your protein and carbs; it’s why I want you to run and play instead of watch TV all day. I want you to know about nutrition and exercise so you don’t have to go through what I did.”
I hope that when my daughter grows up, if she’s asked to describe her body in one word, she will say, “healthy.”
How about you? Do talk to your kids about body image?
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