I interrupt my mom and sister, shooting them a glare before looking pointedly toward my six-year-old. Although she appeared to be playing with legos, I could tell that she was also listening to us. My mom and sister were engaged in a common conversation, talking about how they’d like to lose 5 pounds or how they looked “so fat” in a recent picture. I wasn’t interested in the conversation to begin with, and I really didn’t want my daughter listening.
“Oh sorry,” my sister said, quickly changing the topic.
She, like most women, knows that we need to do better for the next generation, protecting them from the toxic diet culture that consumes so many women’s lives. And yet, shaming our bodies is so common that it’s a hard habit to break. This time of year, that comes in conversation about new years resolutions or fitness goals. I’m all about physical health, but I also know it’s not healthy for kids to listen to us talking — yet again — about how we need to change our bodies in order to be happy.
Undoing A Lifetime Of Dieting
Most women who are now moms have spent most of their lives trying to shrink their bodies. We were raised in a culture in which that was accepted, and even expected. As a cubby kid, I remember both parents having regular conversations with me about how I needed to lose weight.
“I just wouldn’t want people to say, she’s so pretty, but she’s heavy,” my mom said once.
Right now, after birthing and nursing two kids, I’m heavier than I’ve even been. But luckily, I’m also more confident. I don’t know if it’s knowing what my body is capable or exhaustion after years of fighting my weight, but I’ve finally, fully accepted that my body is what it is. I might as well love it.
And yet, even with that change of mindset, I still haven’t escaped diet culture. I’m currently on Weight Watchers, not for the first time. I enrolled after realizing that the pandemic had left me with some less-than-ideal eating habits, and have really enjoyed how the plan has focused my eating on wholesome foods. But while I’d like to say that I’m doing it for health, there’s no doubt that I still feel happy when I lose weight and frustrated when I don’t. Even now, part of me still defines success by the scale.
Doing Better For The Next Generation
While the body positivity movement might have its issues, there’s no doubt that my girls are growing up in a time that is more accepting of the fact that humans come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If one of them ends up with my genetics, predisposed to a large build, I’m sure she’ll have an easier time than I did.
Even so, I feel one of the most important things I can do for my daughters as a mother is to protect them from diet culture and to build body confidence. That means being willing to intervene when adults are talking negatively about their bodies in front of my girls, or, worse yet, talking about someone else’s figure.
Sometimes, like with my mom and sister, I’m direct. Other times, like in a larger group of cousins, I’m a bit more subtle, pivoting the conversation with a remark about how beautiful we all are. And in the case of an older male family member remarking on my weight, I let my withering glare do the communicating.
If I can’t change the conversation, I remove my girls from it. I refuse to let them see adults who they love and admire center weight as an important characteristic of themselves of anyone else.
So, this new year, talk to me and my girls about how strong you’re feeling. Let my daughters know how excited you are to be training for a race. Tell them about the fun you’re having preparing colorful new recipes. But please, leave your pants size and weight — or your “bikini body” aspirations out of the conversation. Help my kids live in the illusion that we all love our bodies, in hopes that they’ll be able to do just that.
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Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN…