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Why I Stopped Body Shaming Myself In Front of My Daughters

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It happened when my older daughter, Violet, was not quite two years old. We were sitting around the dinner table, and I’d begun a tirade to my husband about how none of my pre-baby clothes fit right (and spoiler: They never would again!). I couldn’t figure out what size jeans to buy, I couldn’t imagine putting on a swimsuit… “I’m just not very happy with my body right now,” I said. And Violet, from her high chair, began patting herself all over. “My body! My body!” she said.

I froze. I wasn’t sure how much she understood, but I stopped talking negatively about my body within her earshot pretty much that minute. This doesn’t mean I automatically turned off my own negative feelings. When Violet was four, and asked “why is your tummy still so big?” I had to take a deep breath before I could explain, cheerfully, that it had made lots of room to grow her and her baby sister. Which, for the record, delighted her: She wasn’t criticizing me. She just wanted to hear again how she had once been tiny enough to fit inside me. She likes that my body still carries proof of that. I’m learning to like it too.

We still don’t know enough about what causes eating disorders, but the research is fairly clear that most patients have genetic predispositions to them, which matter just as much (and likely more) than the conversations they hear about bodies, weight and food. So if your kids overhear one stray moment of fat shaming, you haven’t fast-tracked them to an eating disorder. But—you have reinforced the idea that some bodies are better than others, and that our self-worth should be tied to our aesthetic appeal. That isn’t good for any kid—or any parent—to believe.

But we don’t show up for parenthood with all of our own personal body image demons sorted out. And we mostly learn by failing. So if this is hard for you, give yourself grace. I don’t know if my decision to stop body shaming myself will protect my daughters as they grow up and absorb all that diet culture can throw at them. But I know that deciding to stop verbalizing every unkind thought I have about my body has helped me let a lot of them go. Which gives us a place to start having different conversations.

Virginia Sole-Smith is the author of The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image and Guilt in America. She’s also a contributing editor with Parents Magazine and co-host of the Comfort Food Podcast. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and two daughters.  

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