“Mom, I really hate my body.”
This would be hard for any mom to hear, but for a mom dealing with her own eating/food/body image issues? It’s catastrophic. In one short statement she said, "I know you're trying hard to raise me to not have food and body issues, but you're FAILING."
“I hate my stomach. I want it to go away.”
I fought back the tears and went into “Mom” mode.
“Honey, you are so beautiful.”
Cue the head tipped to the shoulder, and the “Give me a break, Mom” face.
“You are perfect just the way you are.”
“Mom, come on. I know you know how to lose weight and I know you can tell me how to get rid of my stomach.”
So I tried humor.
“Get rid of your stomach? But what about all of the stuff you like to eat? Your stomach will miss it. It will be so sad!"
She wasn't giving up. She never does. So I relented.
“Yes, you can do aerobic workouts that speed up your heart rate and help you burn fat.”
“Should I do a ton of sit ups?”
“No. You could do sit ups after the cardio workouts, but sit ups alone won’t help you lose your stomach.”
I felt confident dispensing this little bit of exercise information. After all, I’ve done everything I know of to lose my stomach as well. It hasn't worked, because I haven't kept up that kind of exercise regime, but I couldn't tell her that. Not when I felt like she was looking at me, praying she wouldn't end up looking like me.
“But if you want to be healthy,” I said, “it’s best to find an activity that you love doing and just do that.”
This is a child who is very active. She currently plays basketball and field hockey. Don't ask me when she could fit more activity into her schedule.
“Is there someone at school who you think looks really good?” I asked. "That you wished you looked like?"
“On TV then?”
“No. I just hate my stomach.”
It was like taking a bullet.
Here I am, working so hard to approach food and exercise differently than I ever have. I’m trying to model healthy eating and exercise habits for my girls, but still, this issue rears its ugly head in my household. I feel like there’s just no escaping it. Because guess why? There isn’t.
I can honestly say I’ve never belittled myself in front of my girls. I’ve never been one to say, “I look fat” or “I don’t look good in this dress” in the presence of my daughters. I’ve been rigorous in my attempt not to put these thoughts or images into my girls’ heads. Society does that for them enough. But I’m not so much in denial that I don’t realize they’ve probably picked up on some things without my intention. They watched me do Jenny Craig a few years ago. I lost 15 pounds and everyone—the girls included—told me how great I looked. They saw that. They saw the smile on my face when people noticed I’d lost weight. So there’s that.
Truly, I believe this issue with my daughter and her body and her stomach stems from society and school. Maybe I’m putting blinders on, but I can’t think of how she would get this message from us at home. We just don’t talk like that here. We don’t comment on anyone else and their appearance—not in real life, not about anyone on TV or in movies. I don’t buy fashion magazines or any publication that distorts the female image. We don’t extol thinness and restricting food.
Needless to say, I ran screaming for help from my therapist (ok, I didn’t actually run screaming. I texted her) and she offered the immediate support I needed. She also said maybe this was a way of my daughter trying to connect with me. ?? Who knows?
My daughter hasn’t brought the subject up again since then. She eats normally, like she always has, and she hasn’t started any cray workout routines, and for this I’m thankful.
She enjoys cooking and baking, so I plan to ask her to help me with those tasks and teach her how to make healthy choices when planning meals. Maybe if she’s actively involved with me in this chore it will help her feel better about herself. I'll ask her to join me and the dogs for a walk. I'll invite her to go down to the basement with me and do Just Dance 4. I pray doing things like this will help her feel better about herself.
I'm also going to reinstate something we used to do when the girls were little. We had this monthly tradition called "Special Plate." Once a month, one of us would get the "special plate" set before them at dinner, and during dinner, the rest of us would say things we liked or appreciated about that person. It could be a general something like, "I appreciate Susie because she cares about other people" or it could be specific like, "I appreciate how Susie helped me clean up the kitchen the other day." My husband and I felt it was a great self-esteem building exercise. It also taught the girls how to appreciate us as their parents, for we, too, would get the "special plate" when our turn came around. I'm not sure why we stopped doing it. We moved, for one thing, and I think the tradition just got lost in the transfer.
So these are my plans. I'm open to any suggestions, though. Feel free to comment! ;o)