Thursday, June 30, 2011

The beauty battle.

A long time ago (probably close to three years if my math serves me correctly) I read quite often. I read books about parenting, marriage, and God. I read about Narnia and other nonsensical places that could captivate me for hours. I didn't really stop reading three year ago. My books just changed a lot; C.S. Lewis was cast aside for Sandra Boynton. I did not begrudge my new reading material.
However, over the last year or so I have found myself capable of finding time to read again. And so occasionally I will find something from the library, borrow a book from a friend, or reread something that's on our shelf. My latest read is what brings me to write this evening.
I probably put way too much thought into parenting and why we are choosing different things. Perhaps it's not possible to think about it too much, I don't know. I think about everything though. What I'm feeding Abigail, and why. What I want her to learn about eating and how what we are saying and so on plays into that. I think through what type of morals, life skills, and empathy I want to build into her. We intentionally read books, talk about things, and discipline in a way that we hope will instill these things in her.
One of my biggest fears though is having a daughter who grows up not knowing how beautiful she is. I tell her. Constantly. I don't just tell her she is beautiful. I tell her I love her hair, her eyes, her nose, her ears, her legs, her arms, her hands, and so on and so on. I even mention her armpits sometimes. I want her to know that each and every part of her little body was made fearfully and wonderfully and that I love every bit of it.
I will always vividly remember having her in a stroller when she was a little less than a year, and walking by a group of girls who were probably junior high. One of them very loudly proclaimed, 'Awwww look at the baby, she's so ugly...I mean cute.' Her and all of her friends laughed. When the laughter stopped (and I pushed aside the feeling of wanting to drop kick a 12 year old) I bent down at Abigail's level, and making certain that all the girls heard me said to her, 'You are beautiful, and don't EVER let anyone tell you otherwise.' We continued our walk after that.
I want to be certain that our voices, her parents, are much louder than societies voices who will tell her that she doesn't look like the magazines, or her friends, or the people on television. I want her to know that those woman who are airbrushed or a size 2 (and yes I actually am a size 2, more on that in a minute) are NOT the definition of beauty.
The other thing that I realized over the last few years was that if I wanted her to think she was beautiful, I was going to have to work on finding myself beautiful, or at least enough so that I wasn't bashing myself in front of her. Because as a woman who is 5'2" and 105 pounds, I still look in the mirror sometimes and see parts of me that I think are 'fat.' For quite some time in my life I could sit and pick myself apart telling you every last thing about me I didn't like.
But as I deeply contemplated how I wanted my daughter to view herself, and how I could go about parenting to make that happen, some things came up in my mind. I have always been quite petite. My family was made up of my mom who has struggled off and on with her weight, my older sister who has mostly always been a happy medium, me, and my younger sister who has also always had a battle with her weight. We were a family who talked about things we didn't like about ourselves. We said things about other people's weight, whether they be too big or too little. I had people make comments to me (and still do occasionally) about needing to eat a sandwich. I went through a time period where if I went to the bathroom after a meal one of my sisters would sit outside the door certain that I had an eating disorder (I didn't, nor have I ever).
Although those things are still painful for me sometimes, I don't think they even come close to the pain I watched my little sister experience. The name calling, teasing, being left out, and what it did to her self esteem is probably part of the reason it's been so important to me to make certain that I gave my daughter the self-confidence she needed. Because although we didn't tease her at home, she still dieted with my mom from a young age. She knew that she was thought to be overweight even by her closest family members. The strangest part about it for me has always been that if someone has asked me to describe her, her weight would not have come up. She is a strikingly beautiful woman, and always has been. Dark hair, bright blue eyes, tall, and a personality that draws everyone that meets her to her. I spent a large portion of my high school years being jealous of lots of things about her.
But, here is where things really clicked for me. After Jason and I got married I gained weight. Obviously not much because I'm still pretty small. However, there was still this voice in my head that was telling me that gaining weight is bad. I had to daily tell that voice (and it still comes up) that weight gain is not bad. If I am eating healthy and getting exercise then I'm fine. Even if I had stayed at the 95 pounds I was when we got married for the rest of my life, if I sat around eating junk and watching television all day, that would be unhealthy. I realized at this point that because I had watched those around me talk about being upset that they gained weight, needing to lose weight, and constantly dieting, it became ingrained in me. I don't think my mother was a bad mom. Don't read that into what I'm saying. I just think that by her saying negative things about herself and constantly battling with her weight I learned that as a woman that was just what we did.
So I declared when Abigail was born I would not say bad things about myself. I would not make jokes about my small chest, or any other body part I didn't like as much. I would not sit with my friends and talk about how much I hated my hair, my thighs, or my belly. I think, for the most part, that I have been able to hold up to that.

As I meandered through the library the other day searching for something to take home with me I came across a book entitled, Good Girls Don't Get Fat: How weight obsession is Messing Up Our Girls and How we can Help Them Thrive Despite It. I have devoured the book. The woman who wrote it has done tons more research, and is probably much better at explaining it, but her point expounds on what I have suspected.
She goes so far as to say that even if your daughter is overweight, you don't need to be the one to tell her. Society, kids at school, and lots of other people in their life will take care of that. She talks about lots of other things, and specifically mentions how parents negative self talk about themselves passes on to their daughters. She talks about how even small side comments like 'you really don't need that dessert' cut into a little girls self esteem quickly and can lead to eating disorders.
There is so much information in this book that every mother who has a daughter should know. Some of the things are mind blowing. 50% of 3-6 year old girls believe they are fat. Abigail is almost in that age range. I'm pretty certain she doesn't even know the word fat yet. I can't imagine my daughter coming to me sometime in the next year and telling me she thinks she's fat.
For now Abigail still likes to dance in the full length mirror in her room and make up songs. She often can be overheard singing things like 'You so butiful, I wub youw haiw, i wub youw eyes...' to herself. I know that people worry about their daughter's being conceited if they tell them they are pretty to often (we also tell Abigail she is smart, wonderful, fun, a joy, a great daughter, and so on and so on...we aren't only focused on her looks). I promise you that at some point the world will tell your daughter something different. So if you have a toddler, or even elementary aged daughter who knows she's beautiful, just keep telling her. Hopefully it will be enough to overpower the other voices that will come along in her life. Heck, I'd be okay if Abigail was still telling people she was beautiful when she is 25.

I decided to post this picture because it is the closest things to a full length shot of me that I have. I would NEVER be comfortable posting a picture of just me on here, or probably anywhere. But I think it's time I start learning to love me.

I would really love to hear other people's thoughts on this. Do you struggle? Do you see your daughter's struggling? Have you seen friends with eating disorders, and can you pinpoint what they might be from? Even if you go read the book and come back when you are finished, I would love to hear thoughts today, in a week, or in a year.

Still battling,


  1. So far my daughter sees beauty in flowers and trees and wishers (puffy dandelions). She sees beauty in the world. What does she see in people? Kindness, playfulness, friendlessness and sometimes sadness, or anger.

    I've seen eating disorders in kids as young as 7. It saddens me. When I was a teen/early 20's people used to think I had an eating disorder but the truth of the matter was, I had a super good metabolism and actually had no time to eat. (Working 2 to 3 part time jobs and going to school full time and going out with friends and working in a few hours of sleep per day) While I may have been a size 2 (probably could have fit into a 'roomy' size 1 or 0 on my 'skinny' days) I also had some meat on my bones. Yes, I was very thin......>BUT, I am only 5 foot tall with shoes on.

  2. Great post. You and Abigail are two of the most beautiful people I "know".

  3. Hi
    My name is Jenna and i came across your site. Abigail is an amazing, beautiful, courageous strong and determined fighter. She is a brave warrior, smilen champ and an inspirational hero. I was born with a rare life threatening disease, and I love it when people sign my guestbook. I have more then 12 cafe ole spots, and my bestfriend, has NF the worse kind, I have seen her strugle and battle through this disease, she is my inspiration.

  4. Yep, having 2 girls I struggle with this all the time. My degree is in dietetics and I worked with eating disorders (in patient and out patient) for a few years. I am also about 5'2 (OK, 5' 1 1/2!!!) and about 105 pounds - funny - I was about 95 pounds when I got married too (girl, we have so much in common!). My girls are teeny tinny thin - my Annie had to get a g-tube when she was 3 1/2 but my "typical" Gracie was diagnosed as failure to thrive when she was 1 year (about the time we stopped seeing docs) because she completely fell off the charts. I'm always trying to "put some weight" on my kids but trying not to let them know (whole milk, real butter - real EVERYTHING) because I don't want them to think they need to gain weight but at the same time I'm trying to make sure they don't ever miss a meal or a snack because they can't afford it. My kids see me working out or running daily but I make sure to tell them it's to keep mom "strong and healthy" rather than thin. And that's true, that IS the reason I exercise. I have a heavy family with lots of weight related health issues. My husband is heavier than he should be but healthy, I worry about his weight and have recently caught Gracie saying "Dad, do you think you need another helping" Ouch! they hear and see everything! I think I'll check this book out! Oh, and you have some pretty awesome restraint not to have dropped kicked that girl, I would have! :)