We see our daughters' beautiful, perfect bodies from the
instant they are born into this world. We marvel at their downy heads, their
impossibly smooth skin, the feel of their hearts beating against our bellies as
we feed them. We excitedly jot down their height and weight after every check
up, barely believing how swiftly they are growing up. We ooh and ahh over their
chubby legs, their ankle and wrist rolls; we beam as we see them toddling,
belly-first, down the hall. How did that insanely cute belly come out of our own? Their bodies are miracles.
When they're old enough to start noticing their bodies
themselves, they're delighted. They run naked through the house, shaking their
booties in the mirror, playing drums on their tummies, dancing to Taylor Swift and not caring how they look. They flex their arm muscles and demand that we feel
them. They make snow angels and compare whose is bigger. They frolic in their
bathing suits at the water park, not one iota of self-consciousness to be seen.
When the pediatrician weighs them at the doctor's office, they grin with pride
when they hear they're getting bigger.
Then one day, something happens to tarnish their innocence. It
can be subtle, like playing with a doll with warped 42-14-30 proportions, or
catching a glimpse of a scantly clad model in a lingerie catalog that was left
on the coffee table. Or it can be overt, like hearing someone use the word
"fat" as a taunt or insult. Then they play with more of the same doll, see
more women's bodies displayed like meat/targets/sexual playthings in ads, hear more kids calling each other fat, watch their moms grab their outer thighs while getting dressed and make a
defeated noise, see a popular reality star going under the knife or needle ... and soon enough, they stop adoring their bodies.
once watching a little girl at my gym, maybe 3 years old at the time. She
was dancing around on the scale, which was a giant Toledo scale with a platform, kind of like something you'd see at a carnival. She called for her mom to
come watch her and see the cool new toy she'd found. Her mom tousled her hair,
told her "Nice job!" and then lifted her off the scale. Then her mom stepped
on. She dropped her towel, looked up and watched the needle on the scale rise
and bob into its final resting place. The number wasn't what she wanted to see—the number no longer represented her being big and strong, but was now a
reflection of her self-worth. And the mom's head bowed. Her posture sagged. She
picked up her towel, stepped down and walked back to her locker.
Our collective body image is in the toilet, along with lunch or dinner.
And then, in a performance worthy of an Oscar, that little
stepped back up onto the scale, took an exaggerated deep breath, looked up,
watched the needle settle (probably somewhere around 30 pounds), then exhaled
loudly, dropped her head, drooped her shoulders and stepped down.
She was learning.
If you've never wished you could slice a roll of flesh off
of your stomach, like the little girl in this picture, you're lucky. You're
also, sadly, in the minority.
This post is inspired by the powerful photo above, created by photographer Meg Gaiger. It's part of her "Outside Influences" project that originally started as a personal project between her and her daughter (the child in the picture). Gaiger tells Women's Rights News that these image are actually meant to poke fun at the media, which she feels tends to hyper-inflate its own impact on children. I actually feel like the sentiment is dead-on in its accuracy. No, the media doesn't give every child an eating disorder. But it definitely contributes to many of them. And it sure doesn't help a lot of the time.
Disordered eating is rampant in our country; fat
talk, even more so. More
than 90 percent of college students worry about their weight. No girl wants to have the biggest snow angel. Our
collective body image is in the toilet, along with lunch or dinner.
With National Eating Disorder Awareness Week around the corner (Feb. 21 to 27), let's do better. Here are a few ideas for giving our daughters a fighting chance:
1. Let's stop disparaging ourselves in front of
We have an enormously strong impact on how our daughters see and value themselves.
Even if we're not thrilled that there's flesh peeking over the waistband
of our jeans, let's not look in the mirror and grimace or ugh. Let's not talk about needing to go on a diet. Let's stop weighing
ourselves, especially if we tend to be visibly unhappy with the results. No,
moms are not the cause of all eating disorders, but we do have an enormously strong impact on how our daughters see and value themselves.
2. Be conscious of the media you let into your
Conduct a media inventory and make sure your kids aren't seeing image
after unattainable image of airbrushed women. This includes magazines,
catalogs, television shows (and the commercials within), porn and more. As I
write this, I'm realizing that our beloved "Shake It Off" YouTube dance parties
are in direct violation of this tip; the hip-hop portion, when Swift crawls
through the tube of twerking dancers? That's teaching our girls a lesson I
don't want them internalizing right there.
Sit down with them
and make a list of five recent accomplishments they're proud of. It could be a
book they read from start to finish. A role they snagged in the school play. A
door they held open for a stranger. A meal they helped cook. A new belt color
they achieved in karate. Help them see all the wonderful things they're capable
of—odds are, none of them will have to do with their size or weight. This can
be done at all ages. It even works on grown-ups; try it yourself.
The next time you hear your inner bully insult you because you didn't workout, ate too much cake or don't like how you look in a bikini, imagine your daughter saying the same thing to herself. Imagine her calling herself a fat cow with no willpower. Imagine her gazing at her wondrous body in the mirror and hating what she sees. Heartbreaking, right? Well, you are someone's daughter, too. If you wouldn't say it to a loved one or friend, you don't deserve to hear it, either.