Roll Model

Last night my 7-year-old daughter told me she "wants to die" because she hates the way she looks.

She hates that her "thighs jiggle".

She hates that her "belly sticks out".

She hates that she's "the biggest girl" in her class.

She wants to die and she's seven.

I've been waiting for this moment since the day I gave birth to a daughter. The day she inevitably starts hating herself. And here it was.

I felt sick. I still do. But, I was prepared.

Had this been any other night I would have sputtered and stammered for an appropriate response vacillating between understanding compassion and helpless frustration.

But THANK GOD I just happened to be up until 1:30 a.m. the night before reading an amazing book about how to raise confident daughters.

I immediately went into action.

I got down on my knees and took both her hands in mine. I looked at this gorgeous innocent little girl. The baby that I nursed the sleep. The toddler who gave herself kisses in the mirror, she loved herself so much.

This little girl who now needs to be led through the landmines of adolescence.

This little girl who will grow into the woman I shape.

I looked into her big green eyes and said "You're the most beautiful second grader in the whole world. Daddy and I love you very much and we will do whatever we can to make you feel better."

It was almost verbatim from the book. Give her hope, not answers.

She looked startled by my intensity. She immediately relaxed a little. Then she said quietly "I like myself. But then I look at other girls and think they're prettier and then I don't like myself anymore."

I can't tell her not to feel that way. I can't dismiss feelings she has at seven that I continue to struggle with at 32. I can't divulge that she will likely always battle with feeling this way. That this is being a girl. The constant struggle to love ourselves as we are while at the same time trying to figure out who that is.

I see being a girl in this world through her eyes all over agan - perfect models, plastic surgery, anorexia, bulimia, diet pills, suicide - and it shakes me to the core. I want a different world for her.

I remember being 12 years old. Sitting on my mom's bed as she folded laundry, I had just returned from the beach and I was complaning about my chubby body. I had spent the day in the sand under a towel eating all the snacks, completely intimidated by the bikinis around me.

My mom said all the right things ("you're beautiful...I was just like you at your's baby fat"). Then I said the one thing that made her turn and look at me.

"But there are girls with perfect bodies."

I'll never forget. She looked at me with sadness. As if I had just discovered the secret she had been keeping from me. She said quietly and with great empathy "I know."

I don't know what I took away from that. But I felt like I saw something about my mother for the first time. My mother was a beautiful woman herself. But as often as she told me I was beautiful. I don't ever remember hearing her say she was.

And I can't say Savannah's story with her mother is much different.

How often has she heard me complain to my friends, my husband, my mother about my jeans not fitting, how much weight I've gained, foods I'm avoiding? How many times have I snapped at her in a fit of frustration because I'm once again naked in my closet throwing clothes around as if it's the end of the world that I'm up a size?

How confusing must it be for me to then turn to her and tell her to love herself as she is?

It stops today.

I knelt there in the bathroom in front of her, my baby. And I flashed on a quote from the book. Self-esteem can't be taught. You can talk all you want to your daughter, but it must be gained. Through accomplishments.

So I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind. "Do you want to take singing lessons?"

A smile immediately appeared. She brightened up. Yes! I'm a great singer, mommy!

With that, she turned to get ready for her bath, chirping to her dolls along the way. All was well again.

The next morning I decided to do something that always makes me feel beautiful. I took a yoga class. I pulled on some spandex, drove to the gym, and planted myself in front of the mirror to admire the 20 pounds I've put on since my last class 4 years ago.

I started to go through the stretches, reaching my arms to the sky, arching my back, feeling strong in my core.

By the end of the hour I lay there, eyes closed, as I followed the relaxation instructions. I let my breathing slow, I let my mind relax. I felt such pride and tenderness for myself. Because for the first time I was seeing my body as I wish for my daughter to see hers.

I refuse to send my daughter out into the world feeling less than. I refuse. Not without a fight.

Helpless to stop them, tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt strong. I felt beautiful.

And I pledged to bring that feeling home with me.

Dear kind emailers, the title misspelling was intentional. Clearly a FAIL at word play.


Austin said...

Lena, this is a wonderful post! I've been reading you awhile now and this is my first time commenting. How could I not comment, when this is an issue I wonder about even though I don't have any daughters yet? I think you are exactly right - a girl's confidence is built by watching closely the women around her. Some of my most vivid childhood memories of my mother are ones where she lamented over her weight. It makes me sad that I am 24 and already doing the same thing.

I am inspired by your determination to love yourself so your daughter can grow up with a healthy example of what a woman's relationship with herself can be. Kudos to you! Savannah is a very lucky little girl.

Austin said...

Oh, also. Can you give us the name of the book you read??

DianaCLT said...

Beautiful, insightful, and something we can relate to, as always. Thank you for this! My daughter is only 2 1/2, but I already wonder and worry for her future. I don't want her to struggle as I always did and do, with appearances. So - I sit here reading this, and realizing that I really do need to make a change and take better care of myself. Not so I can fit into my jeans without a struggle, but so that my daughter can see me loving me enough to take care of me and feel good about me. So that she can learn that feeling good on the inside is more significant than looking good on the outside while feeling crappy. I'm not going to get the 24" waist back that I once had, but that doesn't mean I can't be healthy and FEEL confident and good about myself.

lizzyval said...

Wow Lena, this was an amazing, heart tugging post. I got teary as this is at struggle I have at home with my 7 year old. Since getting pregnant with the child they told me I could never have, I sworn to myself that she wouldn't see me tear myself down, that she would never see my fear at groups of people, my low self esteem, etc. I think I've done pretty well; she tells me I'm beautiful, and I don't cringe or laugh it off (at least where she can see me).

This has been somewhat more of a challenge recently, as my husband has decided to leave me. To him I've gotten fat, haven't lost that baby weight "and really, don't you think that 7 years is a bit long to lose the extra pounds?". It must have been the first excuse he could come up with, as I'm a smaller size than I was when we met. But the problem is that he's now turned to making comments to my daughter about gaining weight, making her self conscious in that way I swore I wouldn't do.

Thankfully, at this current place in her life my daughter thinks she rocks the house, the world, and, well, that everything is about or for her in some way. She looks in the mirror and tells herself WOW, YOU LOOK AMAZING TODAY, and I'm so grateful for that! I don't think I could be as strong as you were, to handle it so wonderfully. I'm pretty sure if she said that something like that, I'd be in a puddle of tears, which I'm sure would only increase her inner self confidence demons. You should be so proud of yourself, you set a great standard. And you really need to let us know what book that was, to give you such wonderful mommy-power!

Wahkonamama said...

Can I ask what book you were reading? My sister is trying to eliminate any negative body talk in her house, hoping to shield my sweetie-pie niece from the self-criticism cycle, and I know she'd love to find books on the subject.

Wahkonamama said...

Gah, I forgot to post the rest of my comment. I often wonder if we're conditioned to self-criticize. It's a double-edged sword. If you're confident and self-loving (not narcissistic, just self-accepting), there is someone waiting in the wings to slap on a negative label (or maybe that's just a part of the uber-passive-aggressive culture of where I live).


Mrs. Chicken said...

Beautiful and meaningful. A lesson for all of us with daughters. Thank you.

And yes, please share the book. My daughter is 4 and already she is refusing food when she is hungry. I need this book, and I needed this post.

Mrs JP Chaos said...

Amazing. Completely amazing and so important for those of us with daughters.

I work so hard to make sure they are confident in who they are, and I LOVED reading this because it reminds me of how hard I've worked on myself, to love myself enough to show them the way. THAT is the hard part.

I really loved this post.

twoboysmommy said...

Lena, you rocked it on this one. Living where we do it is especially hard to love ourselves and have a healthy relationship with our bodies. Unfortunately, it isn't just girls that suffer from the stress and anxiety of weight issues and how their size affects their acceptance in school and daily life. With two boys, I know well the same torment can pop up in their heads as it can for girls.

Savannah is a beautiful girl and blessed to have you for her mom!

Heather said...

I love and relate to this post more than I'd like to admit. I have caught myself doing the same thing (pointing out all of my flaws) around my daughter and it has to stop. Thanks for sharing this, I needed to hear it.

Do you mind sharing the book you read?

Petunia Face said...

This breaks my heart and gives me hope. I have a three year old and right after I write this I am going to go tell her how happy I am with myself. Just because.

True, she will look at me as if I'm crazy or seem not to hear me at all, but I'm doing it anyway.

JachiCue said...

You know I just about cried when I heard my co-worker talking about how her 8 year old skipped dinner and opted for a piece of fruit and water instead because she was 'fat'. She was surprised, but just days before this co-worker was saying that she had skipped dinner and had fruit instead because she was trying to drop a few pounds.

You're absolutely right. We are the ones who mold our children.

Thank you so much for writing this. It's truly moved me.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff here.

Lena said...

The book is Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters by Joann Deak. All kinds of awesome.

@Anonymous - Great site. I'm following her on Twitter now. Thanks!

Lori said...

Thanks for this post. It was exactly, exactly what I needed to read tonight, as I sit here with sore eyes from crying after having a night like this with my almost 6 yr old. Except I haven't been enlightened by these books yet. Off I go to the bookstore! Thank you.

lynn @ human, being said...

Have you seen that Dove Evolution video on Facebook yet? It's something all moms and daughters should see, because it speaks to the unrealistic expectation of beauty we have today.

The other day, I took Lauren to the water park. She wanted to wear her bikini. Lauren is a big girl, chubby. She's also very tall--4-10 and she's only 8. So, we're at the water park and she's have a great time, and as usual, she's making new friends. And then, she's sitting in front of me crying quietly. She doesn't want to tell me what happened, just needs me to hold her. I know exactly what happened. Those kids told her she was too fat to wear a bikini. I know this, because she wanted to know where her rash guard was. I wanted to go over to those kids and shake them, point out THEIR flaws--and hey, little boy, let me see your penis so I can tell you how small it is and always will be. And you, skinny blonde girl? Your eyes are too close together and your nose is too big. You're "almost cute," and boys will fuck you when you're 13 and dump you.

Yes, I'm horrible, but those kids? Just as horrible. Of course I didn't say those things to them. Instead I found Lauren's shirt and helped her pull it on over her wet skin. "I just don't want to get sunburned, Momma," she told me.

Hall Family in MD said...

Great post. I am struggling with the same thing with my daughter. The only difference is that she has a bst friend who is built just like her, so she doesn't seem to care as much which is great, but I do. And I worry about when she will come to me like Savannah did to you. ((Hugs)) Know you are alone and that you did great!

bold said...

Lovely. Brava to you.

SuzyB said...

Beautiful post, my daughter is going through the same thing and like you say, no matter how many times we tell them they are beautiful and gorgeous as they are, they need to believe it themselves.

Kids can be so cruel to each other at this age, its heartbreaking when she comes home and points out what she thinks are huge flaws and each time it happens it knocks her confidence just that little bit more. I think to myself, I dont want people like that to be her role models anyway, she has a best friend in me and together we'll get through it all x

MichelleRenee said...

I just love this one. You did a great job on such a emotional subject.

My eldest was a happy (yet very chubby) little girl. About second grade she started to HATE herself and her weight.

It made me sick how sad she was. I focused on the positives, bought clothes for her that covered, but were in style.

Then one day she grew. OMIGOD she grew. She is now 5 inches taller than me and everything evened out.

But she remembers.

kdiddy said...

oof. I can only imagine the gut punches from having a conversation like that with your baby. I know that I started hating my body around Savannah's age and it only recently occurred to me how fucked up that is. my son is 7 and there's nary a thought toward his appearance. it's amazing what different lives they lead.
you did great, mama. I'm so proud of you. *hugs*

Julie @ The Mom Slant said...

I can identify, almost to the letter, with this post. Problem was, at my house, nobody said the right things.

Savannah is lucky to have you.

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

This is so painful to read, because it is so real.

I hate my body and I try to hide it from my daughter. I don't want her to have to go through the mental anguish I live with.

mouthy_broad said...

good job. good good stuff.

Terri Jones said...

How wonderful you discover this at age 32. I remember my mom putting down her looks when I was little. And what a great lesson to turn the subject away from her looks and onto her singing talent. It's a long hard road ahead when it comes to our looks but let's hope it's the road not taken.

Janice Ellen Wright said...

You're such a beautiful person. Inside and out.

Anonymous said...

I strongly recommend you look at this website and see if there is an organization in your area. It's a non-profit self-esteem building program which is amazing!

Mel said...

Such a powerful post! Savannah is one lucky girl to have you for a Mommy! Something I heard (probably on Oprah!) that has always stuck with me is little girls need to hear and see confident mommies. Something as simple as primping in the mirror and saying to your daughter, "Look how nice my hair looks today. Doesn't Mom have nice hair?" She'll see you liking something about yourself. I think about my own mom and all the ways she put herself down. I would have loved to hear her compliment herself!

Laurie said...

I did not begin my trip into physical self-loathing until I was 11 years old. I do not have children. It still makes me sad to hear how much earlier it seems to start for young girls now. Horrible.

You will help her. You can't deprogram all the craziness out there but how you are communicating with her and supporting her will help her so much.

Sigh...crazy world.

mori said...

It's so sad this starts earlier and earlier with our little girls.
BUT you said/did the right thing.

Us mothers have to love ourselves and be comfortable in our skins so our daughters can do that same.
And we can redefine what is beautiful.
Self confidence and being happy with who we are is just as beautiful (if not more so) than some women with the 'perfect' bodies, makeup,hair, etc. I've seen those women and they look great but some act pitiful. What is the image we feel pressured to aspire to?

And you know our little girls with the baby fat and poochie tummies need to know that that is nature's way of preparing them for womanhood. Remember how we loved it when our babies were chubby? well, that fat was there for a reason. Babies grow 'out' and then 'up'. The same applies (within reason) to our pre-teen and pre-tween girls.

WE really have to love ourselves - whether we are skinny, athletic, curvy, heavy, etc. It does not matter. A standard is just a standard and we need to let our girls know that if they don't meet those what? We gotta find a way to make ourselves and society understand beauty is in the eye of the beholder. so when our girls do 'behold' themselves in the mirror they see beauty.

We have to love ourselves first before we can teach our girls to love themselves.

Great blog! You are a wonderful mother and your daughter is so lucky to have you for a mom!

Lena said...

@Lynn @ Human, Being:

I have.

The Girl Revolution said...

We talk about this a lot at The Girl Revolution. I call it mother-daughter emotional osmosis. They inherit our body-feelings.

Of course, you did exactly the right thing by taking action by going to yoga yourself. If they're going to inherit our feelings, the goal is then to change our feelings to be more positive about our own bodies.

Crystal said...

I thought this was a wonderful entry. I have daughters myself ages 8 and 6. I see them as any mother sees their child as beautiful wonderful little girls. But I also see the effect that growing up is having on my older daughter. The need to wear the right clothes and have her hair done just so, all in an attempt to fit in and look just like the other girls in her class.
Being a parent is a very scary thing and I think being a mother with daughters is even scarier. We project on them our own insecurities and struggles with weight and body image. I want my girls to grow into strong confident women and I hope I do my best to help them get there.

Stephanie Melton said...

This is a beautiful post. She is so lucky to have such an amazing, flawed mother, so that she will always know it is ok to be flawed! You are a terrific mom and wife from what I can see. We all struggle with weight/body image and it means a lot to be able to pull up your blog and see that someone as smart, beautiful and funny as YOU can deal with this in such an honest manner.

mpotter said...

oh, i'd love to know the book you read. i fear this for my own little girl. i have never had self-esteem. and i don't know where it should come from....
but i do know if there's ANYTHING i can do to help littlebean, i certainly will.

because living a life w/o it has totally sucked!

Liana said...

De-lurking to say: Beautiful!!! Brought tears to my eyes.
Thank you for this.

Nichole said...

Yes...exactly. I just hope that I have the strength & grace to react as well. I habitually lurk on lots of blogs (Google reader helps that), but this post made me need to comment. Just...thank you!

Anonymous said...

ROLE Model

Lena said...

@anon: Yes, it's called a play on words. I'm sort of a wizard that way.

Linsey said...

I love this post. I always worry so much about my sweet little girl. I know she hears what I say about myself, I need to change that. You inspire me.

Deb said...

Fabulous post. This is my first visit to your blog and I am glad I came by.

When I found out that my baby to be was a girl I made a list. A lists of things that I will and will not do for her well being. Never putting myself down or complaining about my looks or weight was #1 on that list. I grew up and struggled with low self esteem, not because I lacked anything, looks, intelligence or anything else for that matter, it was because my mother had no self esteem. She was as supportive as any mother could have been, but the words she spoke to herself were so much more powerful than the words she spoke to me.

It is so important to realize how easily we can pass these things along to our children without even realizing it. Your post does a fantastic job of bringing this to light.

Anonymous said...

I feel for you. I'm raising my daughter to be strong and confident and to love her body, but living in OC, I know one day she will feel the temptation to starve herself to oblivion as I did when I was young. UGH. And it's not just here. My DH is from Paris and it's even worse there. :(
I hate how girls feel that they are fat if they aren't skin and bones.

Relyn said...

This is beautiful. Powerful and wise. I have to ask. What book??

Traci said...

Oh WOW! I struggle with this same thing every day. I also have a daughter who is 7, I always try to say the right things but I am afraid she sees through me. I grew up with a mother who was a model and never weighed over 103. I think I crossed 100lbs before I was out of elementary school. At the ripe old age of 35 I have reached a plateau now which is only a size 10/12 but I still would love to drop 20lbs.
My daughter loves Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato & Selena Gomez but they are all very naturally tiny, I just hope I am reaching her when I tell her that being beautiful is all about being beautiful on the INSIDE.

Serenity Now! said...

I love how you handled this. And thank you for writing this because my daughter is three and you may have just helped the both of us... and can you tell me which book you were reading?

Serenity Now! said...

Oh haha... i just had to read the comments to find the name of the book. :)

Lin said...

I'm de-lurking to tell you that this post was posted on a day that helped to inspire this:

Hope you don't mind the reference, I tried to keep it vague, but this post was so touching. It just added to the thoughts I was already having and I really hope to make something of the blog that will be helpful and uplifting. Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

You may want to look again at your blog title "Does this blog make me look fat?"

Linda E. said...

Where art thou Cheeky Lotus?

CharmingPixieFlora said...

Lena!!! I love this post! I am a long time follower, but first time commenter. I am 34 and have two boys. Even boys start commenting about how the other boys are taller, stronger, etc.... Reading this made me tear up in admiration and confidence.

Hugs and much love to you sister!!!

Tom said...

I got the word play in the title after about two sentences. So it wasn't a complete failure. I like your blogs, and this was a very very nice one. Something this fellow who wants to be a dad will make a point to remember.

Mr Lady said...

Oh, damn, dude.


That's the best I've got. Well, except I bet your kid is going to be just fine. Way to be a good mom.

Graham said...

Oh haha... i just had to read the comments to find the name of the book. :)

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