Disclaimer: I don’t know if a mother’s body shaming has the same effect on sons as it does on daughters, but as always, I’m writing about my experience in this blog, so this post is about body shaming and my own impressionable little girl.
I know with certainty that research has shown negative effects of body shaming on girls. I also know personally the power of hearing your mother complain about her appearance, of watching her look at her reflection with critical, even hate-filled eyes. I’ve written a bit about my history with anorexia and bulimia as a teenager. I’m not blaming my mom – she was mostly blasé about her appearance. But she also complained about gaining weight and she went on diets. Back then I don’t think parents thought much about talking about dieting in front of their kids – it was before the wave of media campaigns for improving body image in girls. But that kind of thinking kind of gets engrained in your own inner voice as you grow up.
In university I got into feminist circles and I learned to love my body – and all bodies. I learned about fat shaming and the myths around fatness. I want my daughter to love herself no matter what body type she ends up with, and just as importantly, I don’t want her picking up prejudices about others based on body shape and size.
Which brings me to the present – swimming lessons with her Mo. My wife isn’t happy with her body right now. My wife also did not belong to the same feminist circles as I did in university. Although I constantly correct her for shaming her own body in front of our daughter, I don’t think she’s worried enough about it. As we get ready for swimming, she looks down at herself in disgust. She mutters (under her breath, but still audibly), “I’m so fat right now.” She talks about needing to lose weight every single day. When I correct her, I make sure to do it immediately and in front of Avery. I try to say things like “we’re all beautiful the way we’re made,” and “we’re kind to ourselves in this family, please don’t be mean to yourself.” I also try to compensate for my wife’s negative impressions by walking around naked and confidently when I get out of the shower, by happily letting my daughter lift up my shirt to point out my belly button, and by using positive affirmations, like “I love my body,” or just, “I like myself.” But I don’t really know what to say to correct the negative kind of thinking. Once Avery hears it, there’s nothing I can say to make her unhear it.
My wife will sometimes back pedal and say “I want to be healthy.” But I’m afraid the damage is done. I’m afraid Avery will just learn to use “being healthy” as an excuse for dieting if she one day starts to hate her body. Ugh, the thought of my daughter hating her body one day makes me so sad. It makes me angry.