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

Feb 21, 2011 at 3:00 a.m. ET

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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