Breaking the Bad Body Image Curse {A Lesson Learned}

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My mom was such a great example of practically everything I wanted to be as a mom growing up. She was patient, kind, God-fearing, and full of grace. She raised us to know right from wrong and showed love in everything. But one of the few flaws I saw in her over the years was her self-confidence.

She had a horrible body image of herself and she couldn’t help but vocalize that constantly to those around her.

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I distinctly remember sitting at the table with her as a young child looking at photos of her as a teen and she spent the entire time lamenting the body she had pre-kids. I remember being very young, early grade school years, and hearing her talk to herself, her sisters, her friends, even to us, her children, about how she hated her thighs, her double chin, her tummy, her arms… She once told me she would never wear sleeveless tank tops because her arms were “too chubby” and often times she would cover up in sweaters or long sleeves to mask her “unsightly arms.”

I could never understand the problem she had with her arms. They were warm and cuddly and always open for us. Her arms were filled with love; there was nothing unsightly about them. But to her, they were one of her biggest insecurities. As the years passed and life did what it does, she gained weight and the negative self talk continued about her body. She would complain about her “thunder thighs” every time she passed a mirror and give herself a disgusted look. She would make up excuses sometimes to not see people if she hadn’t seen them in awhile for fear they would judge her weight gain. Trust me when I say everyone loved my mom and the last thing they would’ve cared about was the extra 5 pounds she was carrying around her middle. But she couldn’t get past the disparaging comments in her own brain.

I remember as a child that demoralizing self talk from her shocked me because it was so OPPOSITE of what she taught me. I had all the confidence in the world. I was always poured in to with love and positive words and never thought of myself the way she thought of herself. I was never a small child, and as a teenager and college student, I slowly crept into the plus-size section. However, I never adopted the same negative talk that my mother did about herself. It was just my body and I accepted it as it was. I’m positive that had to do with her always instilling the confidence in me that she did not have in herself.

But as a 30-something woman, I began to really notice and harbor some feelings about the way she talked about herself in front of me.

I approached her about her body image issues one day in my early days of motherhood. My daughter was around a year old and we were visiting my mother, and after greeting her, she quickly apologized for looking like a “fat slob” in her sweatpants. While I understand sometimes the need to voice insecurities to feel better, I was immediately taken aback by her comment because 1) she didn’t look remotely like a “fat slob” and 2) all we saw was our mother and grandmother that we were so thrilled to be visiting 3) although small, I was already painfully aware that soon that negative talk would be occurring around my daughter. So my mom and I had a come to Jesus moment right then and there in the living room. I explained how hurtful it was to me to hear her constantly degrading herself, and that I understood it was a hard habit to break but that I would not be allowing that negative body-shaming rhetoric to be happening in front of my daughter. She was immediately caught off guard and apologetic.

After really hashing it out, she admitted she didn’t even realize she was doing it and was shocked and humbled to realize I had been hearing her negative talk for 30+ years. She tried very hard from that point on to change the way she vocalized her body image, and I was very grateful that by the time she moved in with us a few years later, she had all but left those negative comments in the past. My daughter spent almost every waking moment she could with her grandmother and to my relief, she never heard her speak a bad word about her body. While I’m sure her body image affected me in different ways, I luckily never felt like I internalized her negative language around my own body and if anything, it made me more steadfast in my body confidence and acceptance.

But I know that isn’t the case with so many women.

According to dosomething.org, “approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies.” That is almost ALL WOMEN.  I’ve vowed to myself and to my daughter to try very hard not to vocalize negative body image around either of us. When a thought enters my head that is unkind, I try to imagine what I would say to my daughter if she thought that about herself and I use that same kindness with myself. Even at 5 years old, I know she is bombarded with a world that is very much body-conscious and like most women, she will have her insecurities but I am trying very hard to not pile on to the baggage she will carry in that department.

So whether it’s letting the kids take a picture of you, wearing the bathing suit and getting in the pool on vacation, wearing tank tops or short shorts, or cutting out all the negative talk about your thighs or your double chin, I say it’s time to embrace life and learn to speak kindness to our children and to ourselves when it comes to body confidence. If my mother taught me anything, it’s that people rarely see our “flaws” like we do, and in fact, what we see as flaws often times are loved by those around us. So don’t waste time speaking unkind words about your body; instead, embrace what the Good Lord has given you and live your life!

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