When I was growing up my Mom was ALWAYS on some kind of diet. For as long as I can remember she never seemed to be happy with the way she looked. While my sister and I were pretty healthy children, constantly outside playing in the summer and riding bikes through the hills in our community, both of us developed a complex where we thought we were fat. Just the idea of those words coming out of my daughter’s mouth makes my heart break, but my Mom didn’t seem too fazed by this.
You might think that Mom could have done better at instilling us with self-esteem, and you are probably right. But I try not to blame her too much. If there is one thing that I know to be true, it is that all behavior is LEARNED. If my children see me constantly speaking negatively about myself, there is a much higher chance that they are going to pick up on it and start speaking negatively about themselves as well.
Have you ever been around a kid who watches a lot of one specific show? I would bet that more often than not, that child begins to adopt the way at least one of those characters talks. I have seen it first hand while babysitting my nieces and nephew. They pick up catch phrases, and most of the time, don’t even understand what it is they are saying. The most important gift I feel like I can give to my children (besides being totally awesome like I am) is to end this cycle of negativity with me.
But Julia, how do you plan to do that? I am so happy that you asked, faithful reader. No matter how I feel about my body I will absolutely not discuss it in negative terms with my child around. My goal is to stop all negative self-talk completely, but baby steps. (I have 28 years of bad habits to break here) My mom was always discussing her diets, talking about how bad she looked in clothes, and most harmful, calling herself fat. She even kept her “fat picture” taped to the fridge as a deterrent for unhealthy snacking.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m just going to eat whatever I want 24/7, never do anything healthy and call that body positive. My goal is positive self-talk to achieve a positive body image. We only have one life and I don’t want to waste it hating the way I look. Of course I want my kid to be healthy, which means promoting healthy choices and making it fun, but if she wants to eat a spoonful of peanut butter or a handful of salami, hey, at least she’s eating.
Are there things about my body I don’t like? Absolutely? I was a healthy child, but as soon as I hit puberty, out came the stretch marks. It wasn’t because I was fat, it was genetics. I have moles, freckles, stretch marks and scars, they may not be pretty but THEY ARE ME. If my child is anything like me at all, these things will likely characterize her as well. The last thing I would want to do is make her feel ashamed of them.
In the age of Instagram, Youtube, Netflix and the general connected world I know it is going to be so much more difficult for me to protect my children from the world’s idea of what they are supposed to look like, or what is normal. Therefore, if I can take one tiny step by being a positive example in self-love that is what is important to me. If I want to wear a bikini in the summer, I’m not going to shy away because I have surgical scars from getting my gallbladder removed, or stretch marks from carrying my daughter for 9.5 months. I am proud of these marks, they are proof and reminders of my life experiences.
There was something about being pregnant that completely changed the way I thought about my body. I was no longer ashamed when I looked in the mirror and saw thighs that were bigger than I would have liked, and an overall “squishy” look that I seem to have. I was excited to slowly watch my body change. My hips became even wider than they were, and my stomach slowly grew big and round. It made me so proud that I was finally getting the chance to grow this tiny human. It was proof that I COULD do it, disproving the fear that I may never get to experience pregnancy for myself. It was a long, and not always easy 9.5 months. But when I look back on it now, I feel like it went by so quickly and I miss those days so much.
There are still days when I catch a glimpse of my body and cringe, the bad thoughts come into my head. “How can my husband even stand to look at, or even touch me? I look horrible!” Then I take a breath and remind myself, “Hey, you made a freaking baby! You had surgery 3 months ago! Scars and stretch marks fade!”
As stupid as it sounds, I have some advice for every person reading this. Look at yourself in a mirror, find every single thing that you don’t like about yourself. Then, look yourself straight in the eyes and tell yourself, “I am beautiful the way that I am. My flaws make me who I am. I am perfectly unique, and there is nobody in the world like me.” It’s a baby step; but there is always the chance that one day, you may start to believe it.