As I scroll through proofs from a recent photo shoot, my heart is warmed by image after image of my (mostly) smiling family.
And then, I see this one.
My immediate thought is one of confusion…who is this thin woman holding my daughter’s hand?
And then my heart sinks as I realize…it’s me.
I did not recognize my own body in the photograph.
It’s a reminder that there is still a monster lurking inside me.
That I still cannot trust what I see in the mirror every day.
That recovery is never truly over.
That I must remain vigilant for the sake of my daughter.
My struggle with eating disorders began my senior year of college. It started gradually, first simply as a diet to get ready for a cruise with my sorority sisters, and quickly became a way to cope with stressful life changes…grad school, work, marriage. It took the stark realization that I could not have the family I wanted until I loved myself first for me to get serious about getting help. It took two years of hard work to get to a point where I felt I could consider starting a family, and two more years before my wish came true.
And yes, I have a daughter now.
Her beautiful face is a constant reminder that I need to look beyond myself. That there is no room to slip because she will see it. To think that she could learn to treat her own body the way I treated mine is unbearable. So I’ve taken what I learned in all those hours of therapy and come up with a few truths to share with other mothers of beautiful girls.
First and foremost?
Remember: Actions Speak Louder Than Words
You can say all the right things to your daughter. Tell her she’s beautiful just the way she is, that it’s what’s on the inside that really matters, that weight is just a number. You can read all the parenting books that say to emphasize brains over beauty when talking to your girls. But if your daughter sees you obsessing over your own appearance, stressing over every calorie, cataloguing every fault, all your lip service has been for naught. Why should she love herself if her own mother can’t do the same?
I’m by no means saying it’s wrong to spend time getting dressed, putting on makeup, etc. Seeing you take pride in your appearance is important, too! Just be aware of the message you send when you are hyper-critical of yourself in front of her. That’s her Mama you are talking about!
Here are some more ways to be a positive body-image role model for your children:
- If you can’t say anything nice (about yourself)…don’t say anything at all! Cutting out the negative self-talk we all have in our minds is especially hard for someone with an ED. I still catch myself making self-depricating comments on occasion. Just remember, your voice will eventually become the voice in her head, but the comments will be directed at herself.
- Throw away your scale. This is not just for people with a history of eating disorders. If you can’t bear to part with it, put it up in the closet. Even if you are dieting, you shouldn’t be weighing every day. And your children should not see your happiness hinged to a fluctuating number. No, no, no.
- Speaking of dieting… I’ve seen mamas who start a diet and broadcast it to the world. Even to the point of posting their daily caloric intake to Facebook. What message is this sending to their daughters? Dieting is obviously a no-no for someone with a history of disordered eating, but can quickly become an unhealthy obsession for others, too. If you need to lose weight, it’s a much better tactic to slowly make healthy changes to your cooking and exercise regimen that you know you can sustain for the long run. Tell your kids you are doing it to be healthy, not skinny. And please, don’t take diet pills in front of your daughter. They see it, and they know you do it. And they will want to do it too.
- Stop watching reality television. And bringing home all the celeb gossip magazines from the grocery store. I was a gossip JUNKIE when I was practicing unhealthy behaviors, and I know it was directly feeding the disorder! Come back to the real world and find people who don’t make a living from their appearance to admire and emulate! Do you really want these people to be role models for your children, too?
To be sure, there are things I still need to work on. I still tend to skip meals when I get busy with the kids, and they need to see me eat a full lunch every day. I don’t currently exercise outside of chasing toddlers (which is quite enough cardio these days), but when I do I will have to be careful not to turn it into an obsession. And because my skin is STILL haywire from my pregnancy almost two years ago, it’s sometimes hard for me to smile at the face I see in the mirror. But I will. I have to. Because I have a daughter now. And I refuse to be afraid.