Mothers, Be Good to Your Daughters
Girls star Zosia Mamet recently spoke to People magazine about how her struggles with body image stemmed in part from her mother’s insecurities and patterns of behavior. Mamet’s admission and reflection is important because it reminds us how mothers and other family members can affect us during our adolescent development. We asked three Proud2Bme bloggers to share how their own mothers influenced their body image.
Trigger warning: Descriptions of eating disordered behavior.
Kaitlin Irwin: I do not attribute my dark descent into anorexia to my mother, but once I was sick, my mom did play a part. She tends to overeat when she is stressed out, and she is not a physically active person. When I was at the height of my eating disorder, I would feel scared that if I didn’t give in to ED behaviors, I too would stress eat and become inactive. Therefore, I engaged in destructive habits that I believed were making me “healthier,” but in reality they were just slowly killing me.
Now that I am in recovery, I have a relationship with food and exercise that I never thought possible. I can be physically active without thinking about calories burned or adhering to a strict timetable. I can enjoy the foods I love without thinking about numbers or “consequences.” Just this past week I celebrated my 25th birthday with the most delicious slice of red velvet cheesecake. I ate it and not once did I feel a pang of guilt or fear. Happy birthday to me!
Even so, I do know that recovery is difficult, especially when we’re living in such a sick world. I’m sure I am not the only one who has heard their mother or a close friend or family member say something that could potentially derail recovery efforts. It is quite easy for our loved ones to speak in a way that may seem harmless to them, but actually reflects body hate or shame. For instance, there have been many times my mother would say she was “being bad” by eating a sweet or something “unhealthy.” At other times, she would preface her meal with something along the lines of “I know I shouldn’t eat this, but…”
I’m so thankful that I am now in a place in my recovery where I can recognize and respond to these comments. I often speak up and tell my mom that there is no “right” or “wrong” food to eat. I encourage her to take walks and do yoga stretches with me. She sees me eat salad, pizza, oatmeal and chocolate. She has watched me go from severely emaciated to a healthy and flourishing young woman.
However, I know that not everyone is at this stage in ED recovery or treatment. It is not just mothers who influence our thinking and behaviors; society is against self-love and body-confidence. We’re living in a world that wants to make us feel inadequate, less than and flawed. Now more than ever, we all need to stick together, express body acceptance and celebrate the diversity of shapes and sizes out there. Most importantly, we need to be motherly (or fatherly) figures towards ourselves and others, and speak words of love, kindness and thankfulness.
Ana de Pedro: Mothers play an influential role in their daughter’s lives starting at an early age. Growing up, my mother was always on some sort of fad diet or a new workout plan. My friends never wanted to come over to my house because the only things in our cabinet were low-fat foods or saltine crackers. I first noticed her influence on my older sister.
My mother was never blunt; she phrased everything as a question. When my sister would reach for seconds, my mother’s question, “Are you sure you should have seconds?” was soon to follow. I never thought too much about it until I started losing weight and suddenly my mother became my biggest cheerleader.
Once I began treatment, I noticed how disordered her eating was. When she visited me she would bring small salads to eat for lunch, and she would comment on the plate of food my nutritionist had planned for me. Her eating habits were ingrained in me; I thought it was normal to skip dinner or to count the calories of every meal. My eating disorder repeated her infamous phrases: “Are you sure you should eat that?” and, “Didn’t you just eat?”
At first, I felt anger and resentment towards her; I blamed her for my struggle. Now I understand that she has her own problems with eating and it’s difficult for her to accept my recovery, but she tries her best to support me every day. At an early age I looked up to my mother and I wanted to be her when I grew up. Now I don’t wish to be my mother, but she is a part of me. I have her smile, her love for organization and her compassion for others. Most of what I do I have learned from her, but that doesn’t mean that I am her. I am my own person; I don’t need her approval or support for everything I do. She may not understand why I don’t want to have a scale in our house, but she doesn’t have to.
Mothers aren’t perfect—they try their best, but you have to accept them for who they are. You can’t change other people, but you can choose to not let them change you. Resenting and blaming my mother won’t help me; I had to let go and forgive her in order to move past her problems. I know that when I become a mother, I will try my best to be a good role model, but I also know that there will be times that I mess up. I hope that my daughter can forgive me for my flaws, just as I have forgiven my mother for hers.
Nagham Kheder: Growing up, I always knew that my body looked different than those of the people around me. Everyone around me seemed to have a thin figure, which I envied. I would run to my mom saying, “Why am I not like them?” Her responses varied at every stage of my life. My mom never made it seem like there was anything wrong with my body. However, when I was in elementary school is she started to help me “fix” the way I viewed my body.
My mom would tell me that I was beautiful the way I was, but I was stubborn and I didn’t believe her. That’s when she decided to teach me how to control my eating habits. She did it out of love and to make sure that I wasn’t overeating or eating out of boredom. Young and eager, I went for it. I thought this was the way to have the same body type that everyone around me seemed to have. My mom always made sure that I was eating enough, and she encouraged me to practice self-love and not to focus on what I saw as flaws.
Middle school came and my body changed, but I still wasn’t happy with it. Everyone around me in school would also complain about the areas of their bodies that they didn’t like. My mom told me that my body was just changing and that I needed to start feeling comfortable with it. Again, being stubborn, I didn’t believe her.
She would always tell me to pick out three things that I loved about my appearance. She said that this was how I would start to love the way I looked. My mom said, “Always focusing on the negatives won’t get you anywhere. You need to focus on the bright side and it will lead you to view your body or anything else positively.” She was right. Even now I am not entirely happy with how I look, but I’m getting there. By demonstrating self-love and embracing herself, my mom has inspired me to do the same.
My mom always puts herself before others, and she would do anything to make people feel like they are good enough. She always says that everyone is beautiful in their own way. Throughout my battle with mental illness no one has been as supportive as she has. She makes me feel like no matter how scared and blindsided I am, everything will be alright. Mom, you are the best gift God has given me, and I am beyond thankful to have such an amazing role model in my life. I love you, and I hope I can make you proud.
For recovery resources and treatment options, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 800-931-2237.
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