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Friday, August 8, 2008

For Her, For You: Healing Your Relationship with Your Own Body, for Your Daughter’s Wellbeing

Okay, so now that I’ve told you my two cents on too many mom’s favorite scapegoats (Barbie dolls and the big bad media), I’d like to share some tips that I’ve culled along the way.

Mothers constantly raise their hands following my talks and ask, “But what can we say to keep our daughters safe from unrealistic body images and eating disordered behavior?” They’re always a little freaked out by my answer, which is:

The most important thing you can do to ensure that you daughter has a healthy relationship with her body is to heal your own relationship with your own body.

I know, that’s really hard. It’s also incredibly necessary. In a world where your daughter will no doubt get hazardous messages about her body from every which way, you have the most power of them all. I interviewed a young women whose mothers had said to her, “You are beautiful and perfect in every way,” and then turned to the mirror, and in the next breath, said, “I look like such a pig today. I really need to lose weight.”

As with all of the rest of parenting, your actions speak louder than your words.

So how do you heal your relationship with your own body and become a truly positive influence on your daughter (and all the rest of those around you)?

  • Don’t diet. Ever. Never. It is a $30 billion industry that fails 95% of the time.
  • Shift conversations about weight to conversations about wellbeing.
  • Reconnect with authentic hungers instead of eating according to calorie counts, “good” or “bad” foods.
  • Move in ways that make you happy instead of sticking to strict exercise regimens.
  • Surround yourself with other mothers and daughters on the same quest. Peer culture is so important.
  • Pay attention to your own self talk and invite a compassionate voice inside to counter that inner bitch who tells you you’re too fat, ugly, or need a new wardrobe.
  • Pay attention to the way you think and talk about other women. Your vitriol for them is just a reflection of your own self-hate. Sit on the subway and say something nice (inside your head unless you’re up for looking crazy) about every beautiful person there. If you can extend generousity and acceptance toward other women, you will have a better chance of extending it toward yourself.
  • Your money is your mouth. Don’t buy products from companies that aim to make you feel insecure.
  • Be gentle with yourself and explore your personal pleasures.

Courtney E. Martin is the author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, which comes out in paperback this September and a columnist for The American Prospect Online.

This essay is the third of a three part series she wrote for Hip Slope Mama called "The Mother-Daughter Dynamic: Notes From the Road" based on observations on the road about the daughter-mother relationship when it comes to body image issues. You can read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.