Learning to silence the negative body talk, so that my daughter can love her body, and in turn, teach me to love mine.
I grew up watching my mom study her body in the full-length mirror hanging in her bedroom. She was very verbal about her self image. “Fat” “short” “stubby” “stocky” “ugly stomach” “ugly legs”…. this was the soundtrack playing in the background of that mirror’s life. I knew this album by heart.
By the time I reached puberty, I silently played this record in the background of my own mirror image. It’s what I learned. The album burned into the subconsciousness of my very soul.
I was skinny, so the soundtrack was different, but it still led to self-esteem issues. The negative words singing in my mind drowned out any image of the complete normalcy of my teenage body: “nobby knees” “boney” “bean pole” “stick figure”. I was hideous. Every flaw had its very own spotlight — each one always trying to outshine the other.
I grew up, I met a boy, we fell in love, and we got married. The body image issue still there, those scars etched so deeply into my psyche that I was determined to never EVER let my husband see my ass. Several years into our marriage and I was proudly keeping this morbid record.
Seven years after we were married, I got pregnant. I had a daughter and all was moving along as normal for a while, until one day I saw her looking at me looking in the mirror. I was playing the soundtrack in my mind: “Ugly stomach” “fat knees” “double chin”… something in me clicked into place. I realized in that moment that this album had to go. It was no longer welcome in my world.
I decided to begin a body-positive narrative with my daughter. Our verbal communication about our bodies will have to do with why our legs are strong and carry us where we go, our tummy is this amazing place that shows the world when a baby is growing inside, our arms are a treasure because they securely hold precious things. I will compliment her wonderful, useful, amazing, beautiful body. When she compliments me, I will resist the urge to point out every little flaw that makes my body unworthy of the compliment, I will simply say “Thank you, honey!”
I would be lying if I said that I don’t hear those songs in my head….like all the time. There are just some songs that never EVER leave your life, no matter how hard you try to escape the beat…. Baby Shark anyone…? sorry about that, but you see what I’m trying to say here? do do do do do do.
Before we go blaming my mom for contributing to the development of this unhealthy self-image, let me defend her. Yes, her behavior in front of the mirror did partially shape the negative body image I have of myself. But her behavior AWAY from the mirror ALSO helped shape me into the WHOLE person that I am today, and I know that I am someone who is trying to be the best I can be.
My mom is a wonderful mom, but she’s not perfect, as none of us are. She’s perfect in that she openly speaks to her past and present imperfections to help me actively and consciously be a better mother every day. She tells me what she would do differently if she were to do it again, not only what, but WHY she would do it differently, the wisdom behind the choice is the meat I am after in this parenting world. Some insight from an open-minded human who has been there before and can reflect on the mistakes they’ve made along the way is a precious tool to have when trying to raise aware humans. I’m lucky to have that.
We’ve made a choice to use positive body references when we speak in front of my daughter. Although, I have caught my mom saying things that aren’t healthy. She is trying to grow out of the negative body talk as well and it’s just not a simple task to accomplish. Those words play in the background without the conscious thought to turn them off… it’s just automatic sometimes.
Our goal now is to help my daughter create a soundtrack to go along with her mirror image — A “greatest hits” album. The words in it will be reflective of her strength, beauty, and usefulness. In helping her see her physical worth, she will be the catalyst that changes this broken record of mine into a new tune. She will help to teach me that my body is beautiful, strong and useful, because her songs will become my new soundtrack as well.
more from the pod: “Hey Dads, It’s Okay to Wash Your Daughter’s Vagina”
Previously published on “A Parent Is Born”, a Medium publication.
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