How do I prevent my low self-esteem from influencing my daughter?
In this installment of Tough Love, blogger Cecily Kellogg offers advice on preventing a mother's low self-esteem from influencing her daughter.
Tough love with Cecily Kellogg
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?
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.
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.
Related video: self-esteem & girls
A Dove film: Girl's self-esteem
This short film shows the way a girl's self-esteem can be influenced by friends and parents.