Guest Post by Karen Schachter
We moms have a tough path to walk as we help our daughters navigate the sometimes-choppy waters of growing up girl. And when it comes to healthy eating and a positive body image, this fine line can feel fragile and confusing, particularly if you struggle with these issues yourself. We moms know how hard it can be to find peace and nourishment in eating and our bodies and we want it to be different for our daughters!
Do any of these worries and thoughts sound familiar?
• How do I help my daughter feel good in her body, even though she has my thighs (or belly, or butt)?
• How do I show my daughter how to eat healthfully and exercise when I don’t even know how to get myself to do it?
• How can I make sure my daughter doesn’t develop an eating disorder? How can I make sure my daughter doesn’t get fat – she’s a sugar addict just like me!
• I’ve always been an obsessed chronic dieter but I don’t want my daughter to inherit that. Yet sometimes I can’t help being obsessed with what she’s eating too!
• My own mom meant well but didn’t support my self-esteem or body image. I want to pass on something different to my daughter, but don’t know how.
There are no quick answers or solutions to these questions, but here is the most honest answer: If you want your daughter to take care of herself, feel good about her body, feed herself healthy foods, limit sugar, maintain a healthy weight, eat in a non-disordered way, and feed her “emotions” without food, then here’s the thing:
You must be the change you wish to see in your daughter.
• We can’t teach our daughters something we have not internalized.
• We can’t teach them to love themselves when we are busy criticizing ourselves.
• We can’t teach them that their bodies deserve love and respect – no matter what their size – if we don’t really believe it’s true for ourselves.
• We can’t teach them that they are worthy of nourishment and self-care if we are too busy taking care of everyone else to pay attention to our own needs.
• We can’t teach our daughters to eat healthfully if we spend our lives controlling food, or losing and gaining, dieting and bingeing.
Our daughters are, and will continue to be, exposed to powerful cultural messages telling them to primp, polish, pluck and get prettier; messages that will tell them they are not good enough the way they are. And that’s why they NEED us to be a model of sanity in an otherwise crazy-making world. They need to see the people they admire most acting on our own – and their – behalf.
This isn’t about blaming moms but instead a message about just how valuable you are. It’s from her mother that a girl learns her first lessons about being a woman and living in, feeding, and caring for, a woman’s body.
You can’t expect your daughter to love her body and then make faces of disgust while grabbing the extra roll around your belly when trying on your clothes. She hears that disgust.
You can’t tell your daughter how important it is to eat a healthy breakfast and think she doesn’t notice that you skipped breakfast and grabbed a diet soda instead. She sees that soda (and lack of self-care).
You can’t tell your daughter that it’s important to take care of herself while you run yourself ragged trying to be supermom and taking care of everyone else first. She internalizes the pursuit of perfection and self-neglect.
So how can a mom who struggles with eating, body image and self-care begin to create the change that I’m talking about?
First, you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to eat perfectly, or be in love with your body, or live a perfect life. If you’re struggling, learn to offer yourself compassion and forgiveness. Instead of beating yourself up, take a non-judgmental and caring approach to your struggles.
Second, your daughter needs you to be honest – with yourself and with her. When you identify your struggles honestly but without judgment, you can be clear and consistent about the messages you send her, both with your words and actions. (When we’re in denial or not clear, often our messages to our children come out confusing and insincere). Is the image that you are demonstrating to your daughter the one you want to be conveying?
And most importantly, are YOU being true to yourself? Are you treating yourself with the love and kindness and nourishment that you really want? (Because even though your daughter may be your incentive, YOU deserve deliciousness and nourishment in your relationship to food, your body and your life as well.)
I encourage you to take some quiet time, grab a pen and a journal, and allow yourself to explore these questions. Once you’ve taken an honest look at yourself, you can begin to see where you’d like to make shifts in your own life.
One of my favorite expressions is “Big doors hang on little hinges.” In other words: small changes can reap huge rewards. You don’t need to become a different person or overhaul your life to make significant and meaningful change for yourself, and for your daughter.