Body Image Issues

In this installment of Tough Love, blogger Cecily Kellogg offers advice on preventing a mother's low self-esteem from influencing her daughter.

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Mom and tween daughter

Tough love with Cecily Kellogg

The question

Your self-confidence rocks. I'm also a curvy girl, but I'm sadly lacking in the self-esteem department. It's partly my fault, but it's also a result of the messages I hear every day. Society tells me I should be thin. I recently had a daughter and I don't want my low self-esteem to influence or affect the way she feels about herself as she grows up. What advice can you give me?

Cecily answers:

First, it's NOT your fault. American women learn that they are fat from early childhood. Think about it: Those Disney Princesses? They have waists so damned tiny that they don't have room for internal organs, and I don't give a shit if she IS a mermaid, she still needs a liver and kidneys of some kind.

Women are bombarded with images on a daily basis of women with ridiculously unachievable bodies. I mean, I'm 5' 2" tall -- I don't care how much weight I lose, I'm never going to have legs like a supermodel. The rare times we do see bodies that appear more like ours are often accompanied with ridicule. As a woman, it is simply impossible to not learn to hate your body.

The fantasy of being thin

For me, the process of moving away from that self-hatred was a LONG one. This might sound counter-productive, but I first had to release the "fantasy of being thin" and begin to love the body I have NOW -- right this minute -- instead of wasting all my energy dreaming about "when."

As a result, I became more willing to move my body, feed it better food and generally treat it well. Because one thing I've learned for sure is that the chronic self-hatred that we often have for our bodies keeps us unhealthy. After all, why treat the body you hate with care?

I also have a four-year-old daughter and holy hell, trying to keep her away from my own body image issues is a challenge, even with all the work I've done on myself. She's already learned (not from me) that "fat" is pejorative.

She recently said, "Mommy, you're FAT!" and then started laughing. I was able to say, "Yes, I am. But you know what? I don't care. But other people might care if you said that to them when you're being mean." At four years old she still has the self-confidence of the preschooler, saying nonchalantly, "I know!" when I tell her she's beautiful. That will change as she gets older, and I hope I can teach her what I've learned.

Fat talk

I do work hard at not indulging in any "fat" talk in front of my daughter. I try not to pick too much at my clothes, or complain about how I look. However, I also focus on all areas of her body image, such as not agreeing when she declares herself "pretty" after using my compact or donning a dress. I always say, "Sweetie, you look pretty all the time, but that dress is very cute." Because after all, the way a woman's appearance is attacked isn't JUST about weight – although I'll admit, it's the main issue.

Good luck. Learning to love our bodies -- or at least not hate them -- is a non-stop battle. Trust me when I tell you that I still suffer from days where there is not a damned thing you could tell me to make me believe I'm not a hideous fat monster. I've just learned to let those days slide by me rather than grab onto the message and claim it. It's pretty much the best you can do.

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Comments on "How do I prevent my low self-esteem from influencing my daughter?"

By Word of Mouth Musings March 01, 2011 | 9:10 AM

Its a hard job raising girls in this society. I have two, one is almost 9, she loves fashion, and she knows skinny. She will mention it in conversation, I don't know where she got it from - but I answer her with healthy, not skinny. My older one at 13, is self assured, she is comfortable - I am grateful. For me, the mirror is still not my best friend. My Mom, a different era, she would talk about walking off my 'winter weight', 'not eating my way thro stress, like you know you do' ... I hope I am instilling some good habits. I just want them to look in the mirror and see their beautiful selves looking back at them.

Lynn MacDonald (All Fooked Up) February 21, 2011 | 5:13 PM

I gotta tell you, it's tough keeping your own baggage out of your daughters lives. I know, I have a 20 & 21 year old daughter and navigating the road has been long and arduous. My advice, do the best you can and prepare to stumble.

Kim February 21, 2011 | 4:29 PM

Love this! And I agree, its not just a girl issue. My 11 year old son has battled weight issues since he was 5. I know, you are thinking that is too young, but he has averaged a gain of 10 lbs per year or more for 6 years now even with a controlled diet. He's been tested for everything under the sun, and he's just a kid that gains weight. He works out with his dad and watches what he eats, but I always think that its not fair that at such a young age he has to worry about this crap. I worry about it for health reasons, he worries because kids are mean. But I just build him up every day cause he's a great kid no matter what his size. Thanks for putting this out there Cecily!

Julie February 21, 2011 | 3:44 PM

This isn't just a girl issue. Boys are now feeling the wrath of the media for that perfect body. Anorexia in boys is growing at an alarmin rate. Yes, women have been dealing with it a lot Longer but the guys are no longer getting a free Ride on the body image train.

Heather February 21, 2011 | 3:14 PM

When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter I bawled my eyes out - not because I was happy but because I was so sad about what she was going to have to deal with as a girl. I, too, suffered from poor body image and all the accompanying nonsense and it's taken me years to accept myself as perfectly made exactly as I am. I will work super hard to ensure that my daughter doesn't get her perceived value through her appearance, her body shape, her clothes or make up but rather loves and values herself for exactly who she is. Thanks for sharing what you're doing to help your daughter make it. :)

Elizabeth (blueviolet) @ A Nut in a Nutshell February 21, 2011 | 3:12 PM

Regardless of body size, I think so many of us struggle with our own body images. I have eating disorder issues from my past which I struggle with each day, and I had to fight against creating those same kind of issues within my own children. I really like what you said about complimenting her on the outfit, rather than making it too specific to her. You rock, Cecily!

Loralee February 21, 2011 | 3:07 PM

I love this. 15 years plus after loosing 130 lbs and I am still undoing the damage it did to me. I wish I had just loved myself a lot more, no matter what I looked like. Because I was pretty freaking great.

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