A few nights ago my little family of four was finishing up dinner when my daughter pushed her plate away from her and declared that she was done. I looked at her and said, “Honey, you’re not finished – you haven’t eaten your broccoli yet and that is what makes you big and strong.” She’s usually pretty good about eating her vegetables and she actually does like broccoli so I wasn’t really expecting any kind of fight out of her but what she said next I just did not see coming.
“Strong like mommy?” she asked.
Strong like mommy. I’m not sure that I was even remotely prepared for those words but with tears in my eyes it struck me at that exact moment just how much my body image of myself would affect my daughter’s image of herself one day. Not that this was a new notion to me. It’s something I have heard and read a little about before but hearing it from the lips of my own sweet girl really drove the point home.
It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I’m somewhat body positive because if I’m being honest there are still things I hate about myself. But I really wanted to share with you a journey that I’ve been on to finding peace. So maybe these are tips or maybe these are just stories you can relate to. More then anything, these are just four things that I’ve learned and that have helped me reach a place that I can find contentment in when it comes to my body:
Ok, maybe this isn’t what you thought I was going to say here. And I totally get that finding the time to exercise is one of the hardest things we can do as moms because we tend to put everyone else ahead of us. But, hear me out. When I had my twins three and a half years ago, I undoubtedly was at my very worst when it came to body image. I know that, at least in my head, I complained about my body every single day. And then I had some really bad back problems when the kids were six months old that led someone to suggest yoga to me. So when my twins turned a year old and I still had both of those issues going on I decided to give it a try.
I started my membership at Real Hot Yoga and I was so out of shape. It had probably been about 10 years and a few wasted gym memberships since I had even tried to work out (and I hated it all). The difference this time was that I actually really seemed to like yoga. And I noticed that the more I stuck with it, the less it became about fixing my body. I started to feel so much better and have more energy. It FINALLY became something I was doing to be a healthier version of myself. Two years later, I’m still showing up to my mat and my kids have noticed. They love it when they can watch me and they ask about yoga all the time – what did I do in class, when am I going, why is it called down dog?
They are three so they ask a lot of questions about everything right now. Their little brains are like sponges, soaking everything in. But what I love most is that they watch me fall and get back up. They see me making time out of my day to take care of myself, something I hope they do one day. At the end of our practice, there are a few instructors who say, “Take a moment to honor yourself for giving back to you so you can give back to others.” It’s like the fuel I’ve always needed to feel better about myself – weight loss or not, whether it shows on the outside or not.
I just also need to take a second here to say that if you have never tried Real Hot Yoga, you really should. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but maybe it is. I love the workout but I also love the people there. They feel like “my people” and the community there helps me come back too because I would simply just miss it if I didn’t. And I’ve just learned so much!
Nothing will knock you on your feet harder then the feeling of being humbled. I read a blog last week that did just that. My friend and fellow photographer Julie Roberts wrote about visiting south Africa and photographing a group of women that forever changed her life.
She said, “They lived in huts with no floors, no running water … and no mirrors. Which meant they had never really seen themselves and they also had no ridiculous self hatred based on what they did/didn’t/should/shouldn’t look like. One lady had only a few teeth and wild, frizzy gray hair. She was so exciting to look at and so fun to photograph. When I showed her the picture I had taken of her on the back on my camera she went wild with laughter.”
I thought about how many times, just in that day alone that I had looked in the mirror and judged myself. And then I ate my humble pie. What if we really didn’t have mirrors to look in, we just walked around based on how we felt instead? How would that change our next generation?
photography by Julie Roberts Photography
Listen to Your Kids
For her birthday, my mom got my daughter her very own makeup kit. She LOVES it! She has so much fun playing with it and every time she sees me putting makeup on she runs to get it so she can do hers too. She constantly tells her brother, me, even the dog to sit down so she can do our makeup. It’s adorable. But one day as she was doing my makeup, her brother needed me in the other room so I told her to hang on for a second. She then said, “Mommy, sit down you’re not beautiful yet.” I laughed about this for a few days because she’s sassy and spirited and loves to boss me around. But is that what I’ve taught her? That’s never what I want to teach her but it’s somehow what she learned. So I have started using the word beautiful in other ways. When she shares something with her brother without being prompted I say, “Olivia that was beautiful.” Or when she tells me that it made her happy that our whole family got to be together all day (by far, her favorite thing) I tell her, “what a beautiful heart you have little girl.” It’s my feeble attempt to show her that beauty comes from within.
Become your best self, stop criticizing
One day at yoga a few weeks ago our instructor had us set an intention for our practice. She explained that yoga is designed to be a practice that makes us the very best possible version of ourselves, free of judgment. That really resonated with me – that being the best we can be, even just as a person, is not something we can find when we are constantly beating ourselves up. The two simply just can’t go together.
Melissa McCarthy says, “There is this weird thing about how we perceive women in this country. I would love to be a part of breaking that down.” Can I pretend, just for a second, that Melissa and I are BFFs and on a first name basis and just say, “me too Melissa. Me too.” But blaming the media isn’t exactly going to work either because in USA Today, Dr. Leslie Slim (clinical director of eating disorders at the Mayo Clinic) has found that “moms are probably the most important influence on a daughter’s body image.” So when we say things about losing weight or dieting or how much we hate our thighs, our daughters are learning that too. I did a Google search on body image as I was writing this and I found article after article about five year olds who are dieting or kids who come home saying they need to loose weight. When did it stop being about being healthy?
These are all things I keep in my head. Two years after starting a pretty healthy journey I still fight the urge to photoshop my lower body in photos (I didn’t here either but really wanted to) and it’s probably where that little voice inside me will always jump to a judgment or two. But at the end of the day, of all the things in this world that I want to teach my daughter to be – strong ranks right up there on the highest of tiers. Strong enough to stand for something. Strong enough to be kind. Strong enough to do the right thing. Strong in her body AND her mind.