When the ultrasound tech told us that we were going to have a little girl I immediately burst into tears of joy. With a solid 100+ year history of only boys on my husbands side, everyone was happily shocked to hear we were having a girl. But within all the excitement, I also felt fear. I was so scared that the precious amazing little girl inside of me would face similar struggles with loving her body just as I always had. Before she was even born, I was worried that I would pass on my body image issues to her and have to helplessly watch her struggle to love herself just as she is. After all, how could she possibly love her body if I myself had never been able to do so with my own body?
I don’t keep it a secret that I have struggled with food and my body since I can remember. I sometimes joke that as a child of the 80’s I feel like I was born on a diet. Everywhere you looked there was a new improved diet product or people talking about a new diet craze. I’d see the magazines on our coffee table promoting thinness and happiness, promising that if you succeeded at the former then the latter would immediately follow. Even my mom fell victim to diet culture. I would look at her and see the most beautiful woman in the entire world, often mirroring the models in the magazine. But despite that, I knew she still wanted to change how she looked. So my little brain would look at my own body and think, “if my mom’s body isn’t acceptable, then mine must be revolting.” So began a lifelong journey of disordered eating body image issues. A journey too many of us have been on.
When Kennedy was born I knew instantly I would do anything to protect her. And not just from the obvious evils of the world, but also from those hidden messages about what she is expected to act like and look like. Perhaps I was hyper aware, but from the moment she was born I noticed people often commented on her looks first. From the start our children hear their own bodies being talked about by others, insinuating that how they look is socially important. What right does anyone have to talk about a child’s body? What right do they have to comment on what food my daughter decides to put into her body? And how am I going to protect her from the messages and images about how she looks that society just deems normal and acceptable?
I realized the first step to protecting Kennedy from a lifetime of doubting and not trusting her body meant that I, as her mother, had to first accept and trust my own body. It knows what weight is happy and healthy for me. It knows how to enjoy all foods, move in a way that feels good, and rest when it needs rest. After years of rigid rules and strict monitoring, it was time to let go and use the energy I spent trying to change my body on more important things, like my daughter. For the first time in my life there was much more at risk than my obsession to achieve some unobtainable version of perfection, there was my little girl who deserved to grow up seeing all bodies as beautiful, no matter the number or size.
That’s how I made the conscious effort to give up dieting forever, trust my body, and love it and respect it however it looks. I don’t try and fit my size 8 ½ feet into size 6 shoes, so why have I spent so much energy trying to do that exact same thing with my body? I remember someone once telling me “every part of you deserves to take up space- your ideas, your voice, your needs, and even your butt”. And they were right. I don’t need to shrink or silence any part of me to be worthy.
I admit the journey to body love has not been easy. There is a lot that goes into how we view ourselves and many of our fears are rooted deep inside us. Society’s messages are also very loud and ingrained in us. As women we are taught that we always need to be in the pursuit “thinness”. Images of the ideal body size and “health” are plastered everywhere we look. A lifetime of these feelings don’t just go away overnight. But then I look at Kennedy. She knows her body so well. She moves in ways that make her feel good and doesn’t feel guilt or shame around food or her body. She is truly untainted by society’s unrealistic standards. Despite all the messages out there, my most important teacher is right in front of me. My own little girl.
Motherhood has taught me so much, but my journey with body love and self-acceptance was one lesson I didn’t think I’d ever learn. Kennedy has taught me that I too can intuitively trust my body and that it is beautiful as it is. I don’t need to punish it or try and change it. She’s taught me that all foods can and should be enjoyed without guilt or shame. She’s taught me that the numbers on a scale in no way define my value in the world. She’s taught me that I am in no way perfect, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a strong, beautiful, and worthy woman. I make sure Kennedy always knows that her worth has nothing to do with how she looks. How we praise others should be about who they are as people, not what we see on the outside. I make sure that Kennedy hears me say how much I love my own body, how grateful I am for all that it does. I make sure to always eat the cookies she bakes and dance around the kitchen without inhibition- because at the end of the day I will be remembered for those small loving moments, not what size jeans I wear.
I know one day she’ll see all the magazines and commercials telling her what the “right” way to look is, so I make sure she hears from me how incredible bodies are, no matter the shape, size, color, or ability. After all, this body of mine made the greatest gift ever, this body made her. And what’s not to love about that?