Beauty Redefined Blog

To the Mom Who Taught Me Everything: A Body Image Breakthrough

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older womanThe mother-daughter relationship can be either incredibly helpful or dangerously harmful to a daughter’s body image. We stress the message that we are all more powerful than we realize and our influences matter. When a mother, grandma, sister, friend, or teacher speaks negatively about her own body or the bodies of others, she is teaching those under her influence more than she knows. The lesson she reminds others of is this: We are all bodies to be looked at, fixed, and judged. And while we cannot shame or blame anyone for perpetuating that profit-driven lie that surrounds us our whole lives, we know there is a better way. For every girl or woman, please you know you are capable of much more than being looked at. It’s a message that will change your life and allow you to do and be and live in a world that needs you. Once you believe it, you will radiate that truth to those around you.

One of our colleagues across the world in body image advocacy, Kasey Edwards, is radiating that truth and sharing it with so many moms and daughters that need it. So many of you shared her message with us that we had to ask her permission if we could share it with you here. She said yes (and that she’s a big fan of Beauty Redefined!!), so here you go. It’s perfect. Below are her words:

Dear Mum,

I was seven when I discovered that you were fat, ugly and horrible. Up until that point I had believed that you were beautiful — in every sense of the word. I remember flicking through old photo albums and staring at pictures of you standing on the deck of a boat. Your white strapless bathing suit looked so glamorous, just like a movie star. Whenever I had the chance I’d pull out that wondrous white bathing suit hidden in your bottom drawer and imagine a time when I’d be big enough to wear it; when I’d be like you.

But all of that changed when, one night, we were dressed up for a party and you said to me, ”Look at you, so thin, beautiful and lovely. And look at me, fat, ugly and horrible.”

At first I didn’t understand what you meant.

”You’re not fat,” I said earnestly and innocently, and you replied, ”Yes I am, darling. I’ve always been fat; even as a child.”

In the days that followed I had some painful revelations that have shaped my whole life. I learned that:

1. You must be fat because mothers don’t lie.

2. Fat is ugly and horrible.

3. When I grow up I’ll look like you and therefore I will be fat, ugly and horrible too.

Years later, I looked back on this conversation and the hundreds that followed and cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure and unworthy. Because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.

girl5With every grimace at your reflection in the mirror, every new wonder diet that was going to change your life, and every guilty spoon of ”Oh-I-really-shouldn’t,” I learned that women must be thin to be valid and worthy. Girls must go without because their greatest contribution to the world is their physical beauty.

Just like you, I have spent my whole life feeling fat. When did fat become a feeling anyway? And because I believed I was fat, I knew I was no good. But now that I am older, and a mother myself, I know that blaming you for my body hatred is unhelpful and unfair. I now understand that you too are a product of a long and rich lineage of women who were taught to loathe themselves.

Before Dad left, he provided no balm for your body-image torment either. ‘‘Jesus, Jan,” I overheard him say to you. ”It’s not that hard. Energy in versus energy out. If you want to lose weight you just have to eat less.” That night at dinner I watched you implement Dad’s ”Energy In, Energy Out: Jesus, Jan, Just Eat Less” weight-loss cure. You served up chow mein for dinner. (Remember how in 1980s Australian suburbia, a combination of mince, cabbage, and soy sauce was considered the height of exotic gourmet?) Everyone else’s food was on a dinner plate except yours. You served your chow mein on a tiny bread-and-butter plate.

As you sat in front of that pathetic scoop of mince, silent tears streamed down your face. I said nothing. Not even when your shoulders started heaving from your distress. We all ate our dinner in silence. Nobody comforted you. Nobody told you to stop being ridiculous and get a proper plate. Nobody told you that you were already loved and already good enough. Your achievements and your worth — as a teacher of children with special needs and a devoted mother of three of your own — paled into insignificance when compared with the centimetres you couldn’t lose from your waist.

It broke my heart to witness your despair and I’m sorry that I didn’t rush to your defence. I’d already learned that it was your fault that you were fat. I’d even heard Dad describe losing weight as a ”simple” process — yet one that you still couldn’t come to grips with. The lesson: you didn’t deserve any food and you certainly didn’t deserve any sympathy.But I was wrong, Mum. Now I understand what it’s like to grow up in a society that tells women that their beauty matters most, and at the same time defines a standard of beauty that is perpetually out of our reach. I also know the pain of internalising these messages. We have become our own jailors and we inflict our own punishments for failing to measure up. No one is crueller to us than we are to ourselves.

But this madness has to stop, Mum. It stops with you, it stops with me and it stops now. We deserve better — better than to have our days brought to ruin by bad body thoughts, wishing we were otherwise. And it’s not just about you and me any more. It’s also about Violet. Your granddaughter is only 3 and I do not want body hatred to take root inside her and strangle her happiness, her confidence and her potential. I don’t want Violet to believe that her beauty is her most important asset; that it will define her worth in the world. When Violet looks to us to learn how to be a woman, we need to be the best role models we can. We need to show her with our words and our actions that women are good enough just the way they are. And for her to believe us, we need to believe it ourselves.

The older we get, the more loved ones we lose to accidents and illness. Their passing is always tragic and far too soon. I sometimes think about what these friends — and the people who love them — wouldn’t give for more time in a body that was healthy. A body that would allow them to live just a little longer. The size of that body’s thighs or the lines on its face wouldn’t matter. It would be alive and therefore it would be perfect.

One of our body positive sticky notes! Click to see more.

Your body is perfect too. It allows you to disarm a room with your smile and infect everyone with your laugh. It gives you arms to wrap around Violet and squeeze her until she giggles. Every moment we spend worrying about our physical ”flaws” is a moment wasted, a precious slice of life that we will never get back.

Let us honour and respect our bodies for what they do instead of despising them for how they appear. Focus on living healthy and active lives, let our weight fall where it may, and consign our body hatred in the past where it belongs. When I looked at that photo of you in the white bathing suit all those years ago, my innocent young eyes saw the truth. I saw unconditional love, beauty and wisdom. I saw my Mum.

Love, Kasey xx

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

 

  1. Rebekah
    Rebekah06-10-2013

    I have been heavy my entire life. I wear the same size jeans I did in highschool- and not some skinny size. Despite playing sports my entire life, I am this size. I’ve even had bariatric surgery…only to end up, well, the same. My very loving mom, told me my whole life: What a pretty face you have! I was never beautiful, never looked nice, always should have worn control-top pantyhose. I’m not blaming my mom. She is amazing. But it left an impression

    As I raise my own daughter (now 13), I have been extremely careful to not criticize my own body. Rather, I focus on what I love about me. I don’t “diet” but I talk openly about how I’m trying to eat better and cook better so we can be healthier. Above all, I make sure I tell my daughter, DAILY, how beautiful she is. Some days, I still think of myself with the girl who just has a pretty face. Your site helps me remember I am beautiful, head to toe. I might be a work in progress, but its time to let shame go, and let positivity in.

  2. Katy Hearne
    Katy Hearne06-10-2013

    seriously, it’s like you’re reading my mind. I was just discussing this with a friend the other day. I first started weighing myself & cutting back on food intake when I was 5 years old because that’s when I first remember hearing my mother call herself fat. And at 5 years old I was seriously convinced that my mother was the most beautiful woman I’d ever met. So, I thought this was just normal & started obsessing with food & by the time I was a preteen had developed some serious disordered eating.

    Now, that my friends are starting to become mother’s I want to tell them all not to make the mistakes that our mother’s made. You never know what those little ears are picking up on!

  3. Sarah
    Sarah06-10-2013

    Thank you for this blog, and the work that you do. I read that article earlier this week, and linked it to my FB account. I have three daughters and work very seriously on teaching my daughters to recognise the poisonous diet culture we live in. In fact, just today my 10 year old was listening in on diet talk during a lunch with my friends. I didn’t really know what to say at the time, but I made sure to talk to my daughter afterwards about how sad it makes me to see women obsessing over how they look instead of using their talents to make the world a better place.

    If anything, my daughters won’t get body image issues from me. Maybe that’s all I can do.

  4. Melodie
    Melodie06-17-2013

    Thank you for this post! As a mother who just gave birth to my second daughter, it is a powerful reminder of the influence I have on them. I am already trying my best to teach them that women are not objects to be looked at! Its been a while since I have said anything negative about my body out loud, thanks to the inspiration I have found in this blog. However, I still have to chase negative thoughts out of my mind.
    I am also trying to be an example through my actions by using my mind and doing as much good as I can. I am looking for more ways to use my talents, skills, and brains to serve others and improve myself. If not for you, I might still be obsessing over when I would lose the baby weight and if my stretch marks would ever go away. I am grateful to have found you shortly after giving birth to my first child, so I didn’t spend more time in that state of mind.
    Thank you for changing my life! I will try to perpetuate that change to my two beautiful, smart, talented, and infinitely valuable daughters.
    ~Melodie

  5. Sabra
    Sabra09-10-2013

    Loved this post!!! Life’s hard enough, be kind to yourself and one another!

  6. Kim Shepperson
    Kim Shepperson09-18-2013

    I request permission to translate this post and post it in Slovak language on our blog (with links to the original post). Please let me know if I can do this. You message is very important and I would love to allow more women to hear it. Kind regards,

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined09-18-2013

      You have permission! Just please link back where it is necessary. Thank you!

  7. Vickie
    Vickie02-28-2014

    It wasn’t my mother but my father. I grew up stupid and fat. I look back at pictures of me growing up and I wasn’t fat or stupid but you tend to believe your parents. My dad use to say he had to buy me clothes and the tent and awning store. He would call me fat and blubber thighs. I was athletic. I had a muscular build not a fat one but I didn’t know it then. He used to make me feel guilty to eat anything at dinner. I cried a lot. My insecurities carried past high school and into college. At college I had someone tell me how smart I was and how beautiful I was inside and out. I’ve taught special education for 30 years, I have 2 beautiful daughters and 2 masters degrees. I have been married for 42 years and very happy. I have never forgiven my father for making my first 20 years so miserable.

  8. Heather
    Heather04-22-2014

    As a mother to my brand new third baby and first girl, I am TOTALLY stressing about the future already, in terms of helping my daughter develop a healthy self body image! I’m learning much from reading articles here on your site, and wow, have my eyes been opened to ideas I didn’t ever realize I was falling victim to all these years! I love your concept of “media literacy”—how I wish someone had taught me about that years ago! I would buy “Shape” magazine and think I was only good if I looked like the cover models. I had never heard about it and the like. How deceived I was! THANK YOU for all you’re doing to raise awareness and promote change. You are here doing all this at this time for a reason—no coincidence about it!

  9. Heather
    Heather04-22-2014

    *oops…”never heard about PhotoShop and the like”

  10. Dee
    Dee07-03-2016

    I had the opposite experience. I was called twiggy because I was skinny and in my culture having curves was the goal but I was straight up and down. My mum wouldn’t let me leave the table until I had eaten everything on my plate even if I was full because people would make her feel like a bad mum because her child was so skinny so people thought she was starving me or something. By 8 or 9 I had fully incorporated the belief there was something wrong with me because I was skinny and couldn’t put on weight easily. I would stuff my face with all the foods that were supposed to make you fat but I just got taller not curvier. When I see people talk about celebs like Victoria Beckham and Kiera knightly get called sick because of how skinny they are it takes me back to my 5 year old self. By the time I was 11 I was layering and wearing baggy clothes so I looked bigger than I was and slouched so I looked shorter. I know todays media sees my body type as “the Ideal” but in my family it wasn’t, big bums and big boobs was beautiful. I’ve filled out a bit since childhood but I had this distorted image of myself where I thought I was too skinny I wouldn’t wear skirts as they showed my skinny legs and I wouldn’t wear skinny jeans or leggins because they emphasised my skinny legs and I know that when bigger women are asked if they have lost weight it’s a compliment but when it is said to me it is a criticism as in ” have you lost weight? You look like you have lost weight, you need to eat more.” A little bit of my body confidence dies when people ask me if I’ve lost weight, and my automatic response is “no I haven’t I just look like I have because of what I’m wearing or how I’m wearing my hair.” But then I hear all these bigger women who want to lose weight and are struggling and I feel guilty for wanting to put on more weight. But I did a gym instruction course and it talks about the three body types and it helped me accept myself and my limitations in that I will never be a big woman because my body type isn’t that so there is nothing wrong with me I’m just measuring myself against the wrong standard and I think that is the truth for bigger people too they are one body type and being measured against another body type but you aren’t supposed to be that skinny and I’m not supposed to be that big but it doesn’t make us ugly or the other any more beautiful just different. My body type has a high metabolism and finds it hard to gain muscle or fat and I have to just accept that to maintain my weight I have to eat more often than someone with a lower metabolism that holds onto fat and/or muscle. Growing up my best friend was a bigger girl and I never thought there was anything wrong with her and neither did she! She was a confident big girl and I thought she was amazing and funny and caring it didn’t cross my mind to define her by her size first or to compare her to a slimmer person and I never heard people say she should go on a diet or tease her about her weight but I would get teased about mine. My mum would say “why can’t you be more like her?” Which didn’t help with my confidence because then I really thought there was something wrong with me, damaged goods, unworthy of acceptance, less than, not good enough. If my mum, the person who is supposed to love me unconditionally, was being so critical of me then why would anyone else think any differently? I’m on a self-love journey now though and have started wearing skinny jeans, skirts that don’t go all the way to my ankles, shorts and dresses and it’s always surprising when people compliment my legs lol but I’m beginning to accept my body as it is and also acknowledge there is more to me than my body and that I am worth getting to know.

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