by Tracee Sioux
I am going to put a self-loathing sin piggy-bank (pardon the pun) on my kitchen table.
Naomi Wolf has a great quote which is taped on my bathroom mirror, "The mother who radiates self-love and self-acceptance vaccinates her daughter against low self-esteem."
I accept this as a self-evident truth. In psychology circles I think they call it "mirroring" when our children look at us as a sort of reflection of themselves. A practical example would be, "my mother thinks she's fat, therefore I too am fat." A mother who is not actually fat, but repeatedly calls herself fat must then bear the responsibility when her daughter adopts an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia or overeating.
More posts on Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty
Beauty & Reality
Self-Loathing Sin Bank
More posts on hair:
Pink Hair Fiasco
Pink Hair Fiasco Take 2
The Meaning of Hair
The child's perception of herself is obviously flawed using this mirroring if she looks at her thin body in the mirror and sees fat. And it breaks any mother's heart when she sees her child look at her own beautiful self with disdain, criticism or self-loathing. I think God put in us an inherent ability to see goodness and beauty in our children, whether or not they are actually beautiful.
However, I believe the function of mirroring can be done reversely with what is sometimes painful accuracy. I think when my daughter looks at her legs and says, "my legs are fat" she's telling me in a very loud voice that this is a true reflection of how she thinks I feel about my own body image.
When I had my first baby I never lost the weight because I figured I would just have to lose it after the second one. On the second one I was in my 30s and my metabolism had slowed down and I was nearing the dreaded 200 pound mark. When I realized I was going to hit 200 in a couple of months and the doctor had me on a heart monitor because of dizzy spells I decided I had to make a complete and total lifestyle change. (My heart, it turns out is just fine.) The whole family was getting chubby and I decided we had to eat healthier and get more active rather than living the lifestyle of a Kobe calf (Tajima-ushi cattle reportedly receive regular massages with Japanese rice wine and are fed hops for a well-marbled texture and tenderness).
The weight is coming off at a slow and steady rate and the muscle is bulking up and I've never felt better. This is obviously a great example to my daughter, who is now 5 and, according to her pediatrician, in the "red zone" for her BMI (body mass index).
Except for one thing. The thinner I get, the more she seems to be focusing on her own perceived flaws. The other day she said she hated her legs because they were fat.
OUCH!! Like a knife in the gut I realized that I talk about my body in a negative way to motivate myself to get to the gym. Not only that, but I use self-deprecating humor to make people laugh and to illustrate that I have the ability to laugh at myself.
When speaking directly to her I use all the healthy phrases like suggesting she eat a healthy snack. Or explain that we're eating vegetables and fish for dinner because it's a healthier choice. Directly to her I am proactive about explaining that we're off to the gym so that I can be stronger and have a healthier heart.
But to others. . . .
She has heard me call myself Kobe Beef. (Yes, I'm a fan of the esoteric references to amuse myself.) She has also heard me complain about buying the "largest girdle underwear they make, only to find out it was too small." I have bragged about going down in pants sizes, "it's taken me 8 freaking months to make it down to a size 12." I have touted the fact that I have lost "20 pounds of pure fat." I have complained about how I simply can't find shirts long enough to cover my stomach, "which wouldn't be so bad if I weren't so fat and no one needs to see blubber hanging out of my clothes." I have touted my measurements, "losing 15 inches of ugly fat, back fat, flabby boob fat, thigh fat, belly fat." She's has heard me complain about my clothes that make me "look like a total cow." I have complained that it's going to take me "40 more weeks to get rid of my fat at the rate of a pound a week." She's heard me say how surprised I am that "my neck even lost an inch of fat allowing me to wear my pearl choker again."
The thing is, I don't loath my self or my body. I wasn't even aware of how fat I was until I started seeing positive changes in my body. I still dream of myself as thin. I still think of myself as "the thin cute blond" one when I'm with my girlfriends. I have been blind to my own fat. Heck, I'm fairly sure my daughter was blind to my fat. I don't look in the mirror and hate what I see, because I don't even see what's really there - I literally look in the mirror and see myself as I was in college.
Yet, I realize that my daughter can't determine the difference between how I feel about my body and what I say about my body. To her, she will only internalize that I say I feel fat and that I say I hate my body. She only hears me criticize my looks, my self. And that is what is inevitably effecting how she will see herself for the rest of her life.
It's tragic really. It breaks my heart. It feels like damage that can't be reversed. It makes me loath myself.
My vow is to change this negative behavior. It is not worth a few laughs for the self-deprecating humor. I feel I have to hold myself accountable to her for this behavior so that she is explicitly aware that it is not okay for me to be unkind to myself, and therefore I can expect her to show her own self the kindness I want for her.
So, I'm going to put a self-loathing sin beauty bank on the kitchen table and deposit say, a quarter (hey, we're on a strict budget around here) for every self-deprecating, self-loathing remark I make about my body or my self. I will ask her to catch me calling myself unkind names. I will require her to deposit the same when she makes negative comments about herself.
To avoid making it another exercise in self-loathing (I suck so bad, I can't believe I said I'm fat again, I'm such an idiot!) it will be a requirement to write a positive attribute about our bodies to put in the bank along with the quarters. Then after a month we'll take the jar of good thoughts and our quarters and we'll go out for Chinese food and talk about our progress and how much we love our own bodies.
Alarming statistics from Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty Study
* 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner. (Collins, 1991)
* 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. (Mellin et al., 1991)
* The average American woman is 5'4" tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5'11" tall and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women. (Smolak, 1996)
*51% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet. (Mellin et al.,1991)
* 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 91% dieted "often" or "always." (Kurth et al., 1995)
* 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years. (Grodstein, 1996)
* 35% of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders. (Shisslak & Crago, 1995)
* 25% of American men and 45% of American women are on a diet on any given day. (Smolak, 1996)
* Americans spend over $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year. (Smolak, 1996)