Jesus, you look how fat.
I stand in the mirror, taking in the woman who matches my gaze. I study her sagging underarms, lack of breasts and a waistline peppered with pregnancies and ever-sustaining the willpower that accompanies twenty years of disordered eating. "Mommy" beckons from my daughter's bathroom and I instantly click back into factory setting "mom" mode. I appear in her doorway, am signaled to enter and find my daughter in the midst of a wardrobe meltdown.
I jump to attention, lamenting on how she could wear a paper bag (because, patterns and that's what my role model told me!) and still be the most beautiful princess this world has ever seen.
That's what we do. We're moms. We affirm. Lift her. Validate her. Make sure that she knows how valued and worthy she is. I know my daughter hears me. I know this because she tells me "I knoooow, I know" and "you always say that." The thing is . . . my daughter uses all of her senses. She watches. She watches me.
I've been criticizing this girl for decades but, now, there’s another girl to consider. We build up our daughters. We carefully select the words we use with them. We get that part right. But how are we talking to ourselves? Your reaction to yourself, whether silently or in a Tom Brady-esque audible – your daily rituals of calorie-counting and stepping on and off the scale- it's all showing your daughter that her worth is determined by a number. Lost weight? You're winning! Gained? You're a goddamn failure. Get off the scale. For twenty years, I was a slave to the scale. The number it displayed (on the daily!) determined my worth. I refuse to steer my daughter towards a similar fate. I consciously strive to build her self-confidence, but who's talking to me? Me. For most of my adult life, I was that woman in the mirror tearing myself down and willing those last ten pounds off of my inner thighs and under arms. Not anymore.
Now, I am the woman modeling how a woman should act, talk and appear in society. I'm the model for what's acceptable and what isn't. I’m that for my daughter. Each time she comes around the corner, I have to choke down the "you look so beautiful,” that auto-populates into my vernacular in fear that she'll start to associate her worth with her physical attributes. I'm tactful in my delivery, reminding her that she is strong and smart, but she's looking at that woman I've been criticizing in the mirror. What am I saying to her? Because that's what she's noticing. Full stop. We have to stop showing our daughters that their physical appearance determines their worth. And we do this by modeling it for them.
If you wouldn't say it to her, stop saying it to you.
Recent studies show that 30% of teen girls have contemplated suicide. While some mothers will immediately jump to the conclusion that the comparisons to uber-edited, social media images are to blame for their daughter's lack of self-confidence, there’s another influence we've underestimating the magnitude of... our own.