As a mother of two young girls, I am becoming innately aware of the damage a mother’s negative body image can have on her daughter(s). Little girls look at their mothers as role models, and see their own bodies in the reflection of their mother’s. If a mother is constantly complaining about her body, she is inevitably going to pass the negativity on to her daughter.
A poor body image can be very detrimental for a young girl. Girls in their pre-teen are extremely body conscious, and sadly many of them are out of shape. Often, their mothers are in dreadful physical health as well. The example these girls are seeing is their mothers practicing poor fitness, and not doing anything to make a change to a healthier way of life.
I recently met a mother (“Lori”) who was very concerned about her daughter’s weight. Both mom and daughter were very overweight and Lori made continued remarks about her daughter “being fat like her.” Lori had recently enrolled herself and her daughter (a 10-year-old) in a nationally known weight loss program. Lori was very vocal about her daughter’s struggle with over eating and she hoped her daughter would finally lose weight on this program. Lori also voiced concerns that if her daughter didn’t change, she would live a miserable life being obese.
When I met Lori’s daughter, I was immediately saddened. She was a cute girl with a sweet personality, but she was (just as her mother had strongly pointed out) severely overweight. I saw in the girl’s eyes shame and embarrassment. Lori’s comparisons of her obesity to her daughter’s were obviously hurting this poor girl. I couldn’t imagine the humiliation the girl must have felt in having to attend weekly weight loss meetings with her mother.
Another thing I saw in this little girl’s eyes was a future of eating disorders. I wondered if she would be an anorexic that hated food, or a bulimic that binged and purged. What I did know was that the mother would be at fault by putting her daughter through such scrutiny at such a young age.
Children are very aware of their surroundings, and very intuitive to other people’s feelings toward them. What will this little girl derive from Lori’s drastic efforts to get her to lose weight and constantly comparing her to her overweight mother? Curiously, Lori had gone to the trouble of enrolling herself and her daughter in a weight-loss program, yet never bothered to participate in any type of organized exercise program. Already this 10-year-old girl is learning the misconception that diet is they way to lose weight.
Lori and her daughter could easily skip their weekly weight-loss meeting and begin exercising together instead. This would not only help with weight loss, but would also provide a positive environment for mother and daughter to spend time together. By focusing on eating healthily and exercising my also help Lori to stop putting herself and her daughter down, and possibly build a stronger relationship between the two.
Some things about our bodies cannot be changed. Rather than complaining or comparing, rejoice in who you are and who your daughter is. After all, you are truly reflections of each other.