September 30 10

How do you teach your daughters to love their bodies? How do you teach your daughters to own their bodies? How do you teach your daughters to treat their bodies as vessels? How do you teach your daughters to take care of their bodies?

When you don’t?

This, for me, is the hardest part of being a parent. True story. I have been terrified of Emily hitting adolescence from the moment they placed her in my arms and announced “It’s a girl!” There are a whole bunch of exciting things to look forward to as my daughter reaches her teenage years, like slamming doors and moodiness and *gasp* boys.

But it’s instilling both a healthy body AND a healthy body image in her that I worry the most about.

I was chubby as an early teen, which I blame mostly on genetics, but also on the fact that I was pretty sedentary. I took piano lessons. I liked to watch sports rather than partake in them. Also, with four working parents, my siblings and I ate a lot of frozen, microwavable foods. Pizza bagels and frozen waffles. Read: not the wisest of choices.

I was skinny as a late teen, which I blame mostly on some dabbling into the world of disordered eating. There were times that I drank my meals. It’s amazing how a person can survive on nothing but frappucinos and cappuccinos. I joined a gym and worked out in excess.

I am now, at 32, just finally learning to sort of, maybe, almost own my body. I exercise, but not enough. I eat pretty well, but not well enough. I like the way I look, but not always. I wonder what sort of example I am setting for my girls.

I try to explain the importance of activity. The girls both take swimming lessons and they take a hip hop class once a week. We have a trampoline in our backyard. I am constantly encouraging them to make up dances in the basement or to jump on trampoline instead of sitting in front of the tv. But are they watching me? I spend a lot of time lounging in front of the television or working on the computer. I haven’t once gotten on the trampoline.

I try to explain the importance of eating right. My girls are eaters by nature, and I am constantly offering fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheese, yogurt. We eat lots of really great meals that include good mixes of lean meats, carbs and lots of green vegetables. And they get it. They get that those foods are better for them than, say, donuts. But are they watching me? Because I don’t make the wisest of food choices all the time. Heck, I love donuts. And I eat them.

I try to explain the important of loving their bodies. When Emily makes comments about how her tummy is big or how her thighs aren’t as skinny as someone else’s, I explain to her that every single person on this planet was born with a different kind of body type. And as long as she’s eating right and exercising, her body is perfect. But is she watching me? Because I stand in front of the mirror and suck in my gut and change a million times and whine about my thighs rubbing together.

I hope they are not watching me.

I hope they are doing as I say, not as I do.

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  1. This one made me cry. I think that every mother with a daughter struggles with this. I wish that I could just keep them away from anything that would ever make them feel the way that I’ve felt about my body. They’re learning all about good food choices – something that I never did – but I have to work on being active with them. One of the best things about trying to make sure that they’ve got a healthy attitude is that I’m finding myself making more healthy choices too. While I still stand in the mirror and suck in my gut occasionally, I’ve never done it in front of them, and I will never utter the words “does this make me look fat?” in front of them either. But I certainly do enjoy a good donut :\

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    Comment by Jessica on September 30, 2010
  2. I have these exact same fears about Emma.

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    Comment by Miss Britt on September 30, 2010
  3. I can so relate. I have one daughter and another one the way in the next few months and I constantly worry about this. I am quite thankful to have a friend who does eating disorder research and look to her frequently for how to get good messages across. It’s a tough job when I am frequently not happy with how my own body looks and I definitely don’t take care of it nearly enough.
    .-= Jessie´s last blog ..Because I need to laugh =-.

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    Comment by Jessie on September 30, 2010
  4. This post hit me hard. I have a similar growing-up experience as you and was overweight as a child then lost 50 lbs in the 10th grade by basically not eating for a year. I still struggle with my body image but have been entrusted with 3(!) little girls to raise.

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    Comment by Amanda Brown on September 30, 2010
  5. I think you’re doing a fantastic job, lady. Trust yourself! Your kids are amazing.

    I grew up where my mom didn’t care what we ate. I was always (and still am) chubby. Sometimes I wished she made more of an effort to force us to eat more fruits and veggies. But she was a single mom of 3 kids working two jobs. She did what she could.

    She has never said a thing about my weight. Not once in my 33 years. And yet, I still have those moments where I judge myself and my body. It’s just society.

    The thing is that I know my mom loves me no matter what. And THAT is what matters. And your beautiful girls will know that, and DO know that!

    Keep up the great work! Because you’ve already taught them about good choices and that donuts are good. ALL IMPORTANT THINGS! :)

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    Comment by Kristabella on September 30, 2010
  6. :) I hear ya. And I struggle with these exact feelings.
    I really believe though that kids learn by example. I am so guilty of not owning or loving myself/my body enough. I’m getting there slowly.
    And all of this work – this self love stuff – all came bubbling to the surface when I had her.

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    Comment by bella on September 30, 2010
  7. I’m stressing much more about this with Haley these days. She’s 10 and the comments she makes about herself stab me in the gut. She is so tall and athletic, but she hates how certain clothes fit her and picks at what she thinks are her flaws rather than see what I see when I look at her.

    She plays soccer and lacrosse while I eat chinese & lounge on the couch watching T.V. and checking my Blackberry. I have the same hope as you.

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    Comment by mel on September 30, 2010
  8. This is such a hard thing. I don’t think anyone in my family has a healthy body image.. my grandmother is the Queen of the Snide Comment about my weight. And after a period of disordered eating that sounds EXACTLY like yours– I rebelled. I decided to love my body. I threw away the scale– and my goal was to run a 5K, have more energy, have a healthy heart. I am TRYING to stop caring about my size. And when I start caring too much? I check out the websites for “plus size models” and am reminded how effing beautiful those women are and then I go for a run. I don’t run to burn calories, I run for the endorphins and to remind myself that I have a SUPER capable body.

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    Comment by Habbala on September 30, 2010
  9. I would say it sounds like you are doing everything right Ali. I would not criticize myself ever though when my son is in eye or earshot. For ex. I would not comment on my body fat etc with him (and he’s a boy…). I also try to teach good eating habits, knowing when you are full, exercising and being active. It sounds like you are doing all that. Sounds also like the way you are raising your girls is worlds apart from how you were raised .. not blaming your parents, it’s all just situation and maybe that was the best they could do. I also don’t see anything wrong with eating donuts. Just sayin….

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    Comment by Sarah on September 30, 2010
  10. I should follow up my comment by saying I was one of 3 girls .. my mum is 81 now, and also gave the same value system that I teach my son and step-daughter .. and now all of us 3 girls have a healthy body image that we pass on to our kids – mom never critized us if we had gained a few pounds .. also focuse on inner beauty and other assets. I guess we were blessed to have good genetics in terms of weight. Cellulite .. another story .. but again .. it’s all how it’s portrayed.

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    Comment by Sarah on September 30, 2010
  11. I so relate… Great post. They get a lot from TV and friends, too. Mother’s feel the greatest burden, and we are for sure their biggest example. But we’re only human. And we have our own demons to slay — that don’t just go away because we have kids…. Hugs.

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    Comment by Haley-O (Cheaty) on September 30, 2010
  12. I can completely understand your fear. I have it too. I also have no answers. Except to keep reminding them that their bodies are perfect just how they are.

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    Comment by Issa on September 30, 2010
  13. I have 4 little girls, 4 and under. I try to affirm them everyday that they are beautiful individuals. But, its very hard to promote a positive body image when I am 200 pounds overweight. Yes, you heard that right… So I am on a mission NOW to drop those 200 pounds (heck, I’d be pretty stoked even just losing 150 lbs!), so that my girls won’t even have a memory of their super fat mommy. So far, I’m down almost 30 pounds in 6 weeks…! Eventually, they’ll just get their normal but saggy mommy as a role model of what a mom who bore two sets of full term twins looks like (who UNLIKE Ms. Kate+8 doesn’t have hordes of nannies, trainers, plastic surgeons, and air brushers to make me look like I never had a kid, much less multiple sets of multiples!).

    I won’t mind if I’m not perfect, or have a flat set of abs, but I don’t want my kids to go down the same path I did as a teenager, and I will do my damnedest to ensure they will keep an active lifestyle and teach them healthier eating habits. Even though I still think most veggies are super gross.

    Great post!

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    Comment by Tami of TwinFactory on September 30, 2010
  14. These are the sorts of things that totally freak me out about having kids. I think you’re doing a great job with those girls and as long as you teach them as best you can, that’s all anyone can ask for.

    My Mom had a really, really bad eating disorder when she was my age, but I never would have known until she told me. She always taught us not to worry about what we ate- just not to eat too much crap- and to enjoy life!

    Your girls will undoubtedly experience their own body issues, we all do, but having you there telling you that you love them will cover a lot!

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    Comment by Kaleigha on September 30, 2010
  15. Fantastic post. I struggle with the same things, and hope that my girls have a better relationship with their body than I have.

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    Comment by karengreeners on September 30, 2010
  16. wow, things I don’t think about yet since I’m not a parent yet. what a tough thing, best wishes

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    Comment by Tammi Marie on September 30, 2010
  17. They are watching you but what they’re seeing is a beautiful woman who is mostly happy with who she is. That’s pretty damn healthy in my book.

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    Comment by Avitable on September 30, 2010
  18. Wow. I love this post. I relate like you could not imagine. I always tell my husband that I would be fine with ALL BOYS b/c I don’t want to pass on all my fucked up issues to a girl.

    I don’t know you well but, from what I do know (and I am an awesome judge of character, except for that one guy I dated that ended up being a pot dealer), your kids are SO BLESSED to have you for a mom. You are just perfect. XOXO

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    Comment by Allison Zapata on September 30, 2010
  19. Great post Ali. You sound well balanced and they will live that.

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    Comment by Heather on September 30, 2010
  20. This one hit me hard. I have the same fears with Mini. I keep telling her that being skinny isn’t important… but being strong and healthy is, which is why we eat healthy food.
    You’re doing beautifully. Hang in there… we’re all hanging in there with ya! xo

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    Comment by Nenette on September 30, 2010
  21. I could have written this. I look and Gigi and worry she will see the hatred I have for my self, and hold them same for her body.

    But know, you girls not only have your beauty, they have your confidence.

    They ooze it. It’s part of what makes them even more stunning.

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    Comment by Brittany on September 30, 2010
  22. Funny how you and I look so different and yet we have the some of the same worries and hopes and issues.
    I can thank my parents for disordered eating, low self esteem, shame. Well, I’m not literally thanking them. I’m trying to change things, to move past it, and to stop it here. Even though I don’t have a daughter. I hope we can do this.

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    Comment by Emma on September 30, 2010
  23. They listen to everything you say and watch everything you do.. anything else is just ‘hope’ on your part. Never complain about your belly or thigh size in front of them..and if they complain give it a minute before you jump in with all the positive remarks..sometimes they just want an audience on their side..

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    Comment by jeff (taylor900) on September 30, 2010
  24. our kids are mirrors held up to us to show us all the stupid shit we do. they WATCH. Not LISTEN.

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    Comment by LL on October 1, 2010
  25. I struggle the same with my Emily. Sigh.

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    Comment by Angella on October 1, 2010
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