I have a pre-teen daughter. She doesn’t think she is beautiful and it breaks my heart.
I feel responsible for her attitude toward her self-esteem because I haven’t been a very positive role model in that regard. I have spent way too many years dieting, skipping meals and over exercising to change the parts of my body I didn’t like, such as my “athletic” legs and rounded shoulders. For me it was a goal of distorted perfection. I was setting myself up for failure. I wanted a body that simply was not achievable for me.
I am learning that being unable to reach a certain number on the scale or a dress size does not make me a failure. It makes me realistic. Let’s face it, you would not expect a Chihuahua to resemble a Saint Bernard. Those dogs, although both part of the canine family, have different genes which give them their specific characteristics. As humans, we too all belong to the human race, but our heritage provides us with DNA that determines how we look. I am from Italian and Eastern European descent. Like my ancestors, I am quite tall with a large bone structure. I form muscle easily, hence the athletic legs and shoulders that I have longed to change. Realistically, this change is impossible.
For many years, I was striving for an unachievable goals with my size. I have met those goals twice in my life, but both times were short lived because such a low body weight was simply not sustainable for me.
What I didn’t realize was that all of these unachievable goals have sent a negative message to my beautiful daughter. I unintentionally planted a seed of unattainable perfection in her innocent mind.
It isn’t all my fault. Children are exposed to media’s interpretation of perfection from a very young age. Although I don’t buy a lot of fashion magazines and I don’t watch gossip shows very often, she has seen these images of women. Even the preteen shows she watches on major children’s networks send a message of perfection to young viewers. The actors on these shows are always very thin with stylish clothes, flawless flowy hair and flawless skin.
I have decided that I have wasted too many years wishing my body looked different. This has been a lifelong problem for me, and I do not want to see my daughter go through negative body image and self esteem. My mother and I took her to attend a seminar for mothers and daughters. The workshop was two hours of talks, games and videos about loving ourselves and redefining our idea of beauty.
We all took away some valuable insight. My athletic legs, for example, the ones that aren’t really suited for the skinny jeans trend (which by the way, has lasted way too long) have so much more value than just appearance. They allow me to run swift and steadily when I compete in races, they allow me to kick hard in soccer and jump high in volleyball. They help me keep up with my kids in a game of tag or hide and seek. I need to be thankful for my strong legs, because I depend on them so much. Nevermind the fact that it’s hard to find a pair of pants that fit. I look good in skirts.
My daughter is learning to love her big feet and her curly hair and the freckles on her nose that make her unique, just as I am learning to love my legs and arms.
When I do get down on myself, it is my husband who brings me back to reality. He tells me, “I wish you could see what I see, because what I see is beauty, both inside and out.” It’s funny, because this is what I say to my daughter when she doubts herself. I just hope it doesn’t take her close to 40 years to believe it.
Loving our bodies should not be a lifelong struggle. We need to think about all the wonderful things our bodies do for us. We need to celebrate individuality and find our own unique perfection to be our best selves.