Developing a healthy body image: Mothers, stop trying to fix your daughters
Editor's note: This post by Ashleigh Adkins originally appeared on StrivingOnward.com, a digital community where women across the world can support and inspire one another in their roles as friends, wives and mothers. It has been reprinted here with permission.
I consider my mom one of my closest friends. She loves her family, always puts God first and is a great example to me. I’m listing amazing characteristics my mom possesses because I don’t want you to criticize her when I tell you about how she passed on the habit of body shaming to me.
For as far back as I can remember, my healthy and athletic mom has critiqued her body. I can’t remember a time when she’s been happy with the way she looks. I honestly believe she inherited her body-shaming mentality from her mother, who inherited it from her mother. My great-grandmother would tell my grandma things like, “Why can’t you be as beautiful as your sister?” How could anyone grow up hearing things like that and not have body image issues? My mom was raised by a woman who was never “pretty” enough for her mother. Although my grandma is a strong woman, being told my mom wasn’t a good enough woman because she wasn’t pretty affected her, and in turn affected her children and grandchildren. Are you seeing a pattern here?
So guess what happened to me? I ended up not loving what I saw in the mirror either.
Out of my parents’ four children, I am the only one who inherited the short-and-chubby genes. I don’t know what it feels like to be a size 2 or 4 like my sisters. Something about me being chubby at a young age scared my mom and made her put me on diets in elementary school. Sadly, mothers do this to their children all the time. I remember attending a Weight Watchers meeting with my mom and looking around to find that I was the youngest person in the room. I thought to myself, “What am I doing here?” and then remembered that I was chubbier than my mom, and she worried about herself, so of course I needed help, too.
My mom’s insecurities rubbed off on me. It didn’t help that she would buy me clothes that were always too small or make comments about what I was eating. I noticed my siblings would help themselves to whatever food they wanted without comment from my mom. I noticed the double standards with food and clothes, while deeply yearning to be their size — it never happened.
In college nothing changed. My brain was so messed up that I associated everything with food and weight anxiety. I got tense every time my parents came to town and we ate together. One Thanksgiving a few years ago, my mom made another, “Should you really be eating that?” comment. I finally let her know how much those words hurt me. I remember yelling something along the lines of, “Why don’t you say that exact same thing to my sisters or brother?” And I realized at that moment that I was tired of her projecting her insecurities onto me; if I was ever going to be happy, she had to stop encouraging me to shame my body. My mom was definitely surprised I stood up for myself. I believe it shocked her into finally understanding more about my feelings and insecurities.
Today my mom is more sensitive to my need to feel accepted by her. What breaks my heart is how unforgiving she is still toward her own body. During one of my parents’ recent visits, I took my mom shopping. Clothes weren’t fitting her right (in her eyes), so she started making negative comments. I stopped her mid-sentence and told her to stop talking that way — which made her upset. I shared with her the things that I ‘ve done to find peace within myself. She was so mad at me by this point that I thought she wasn’t listening. But a few weeks later I learned that I was wrong; she had heard every word.
“You changed someone’s life this week,” my mom told me on our way home from Target.
“Mom, what are you talking about?”
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