I grew up in a family full of strong, opinionated, southern women of all shapes and sizes. As a family, we all loved to gather together for holidays or special occasions over an abundant feast of deliciously prepared food, and then the next day all the ladies would begin their diets all over again only to avoid getting “fat.” As a child, I always questioned the true definition of “fat.” Throughout my formative years, I attended my fair share of Weight Watchers meetings with my mother (who has never been “fat” a day in her life) who taught me from a tender age how to count points. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that through every season of my life, there have been times where I looked in the mirror and truly thought “I am so fat,” even when I was at my thinnest. Now, as an adult and mother I realize that the term “fat” is merely a totally subjective measure of body image commonly associated with self-inflicted feelings of guilt and inadequacy, and just uttering the word itself can make even the most confident woman feel lousy.
Growing up in the 80’s I was raised knowing the voluptuous curves of Cindy Crawford and Christy Brinkley as symbols of beauty. Nowadays, young girls are constantly exposed to unrealistic, waifishly thin images of women and the pressure to maintain a stick-thin figure is greater than ever. Becoming a mother changed the way I viewed the world and especially, the way I looked at myself. Raising a daughter to be a confident, healthy woman has now become an even bigger challenge and one that I embrace.
With a few years and couple pounds under my belt I realized that I needed to change the ideals of body image in my head to more positively influence my daughter as she grew. I always strive to be very open and honest when talking about our bodies with my daughter. In our discussions about body image, I’ve tried to completely eliminate the word fat from my vocabulary. My daughter loves to help me pick out clothes to wear, watches me try on clothes in department store dressing rooms and has taken her fair share of baths with me; all moments that make can make a woman feel very vulnerable about her physical appearance. In her innocence, my daughter always tells me how great clothes look on me even when they are a bit snug (still battling some post-pregnancy weight, but that’s a topic for another post). With my daughter’s impressionable ears listening I carefully choose my words when I inform her why I can’t wear certain articles of clothing. My pre-mommy self surely would’ve exclaimed “I’m too fat,” but now I search for kinder words for both her and myself. I try, in most situations, to replace the word fat and all of its harsh connotations because now I know I don’t need to lose weight for society to accept who I am physically; I need to loose and maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle so I am able to play a game of chase with my children, ride bikes around our neighborhood, and climb to the top of their tree house to be a part of their adventures and memories. I choose (and sometimes struggle) to lead a healthy lifestyle, in hopes of helping my children learn the importance of being health conscious without having an unhealthy obsession with image.
Talking about how fat I am changes nothing about the way I look while making me feel awful about myself, and teaches my daughter that it’s ok to have self-degrading thoughts and unrealistic expectations of how we should look. I know she will see her fair share of images in the media, and at some point she will form her own opinions, but for now it is my job to teach her that the difference between healthy vs. unhealthy is so much more important than fat vs. skinny and that her body is beautiful even if what she sees differs from what she sees on the cover of a magazine or a picture on the Internet.