It is nearly impossible to keep up with the ever-changing definition of “the perfect body”. With the easy accessibility of social media, teenage girls and women alike are constantly being exposed to what they “should” look like.
In a study about the correlation between mother-daughter relations and the daughter’s body image (2015, Shanaar-Golan), a conclusion was drawn that both the relationship and body image were significant factors in the health of the daughter’s well-being.
To demonstrate the intimacy of talking about body image between mother and daughter, here is a letter shared between a mom and her daughter. This letter illustrates the idea of a neutral body image, a mother’s ever-changing view of her own body, and how the mother cares for her own body each day.
To my daughter,
Hi, sweetheart. I haven’t yet decided if this is something that I will share with you, or if it is something that I am writing for my own benefit. Either way, I want to say that I love you, and I am proud of who you are.
To be completely honest with you, I am tired.
I am tired of talking about my body.
I am tired of thinking, worrying, targeting, analyzing, changing, and stressing about different parts of my body.
Over the past few years, I have been trying my best to work through and unlearn some of the unrealistic expectations that I picked up on as a young woman.
Over the years I have seen fads of all kinds- some that I have tried, and some that I have not. Regardless of whether or not I tried them or whether or not they “worked”, they ultimately came down to one thing: a hyper fixation on the appearance of my body. This started at a very young age for me.
Sweetheart, I want you to know something.
I want you to know that no matter what your body looks like, it is the least interesting thing about you.
I don’t mean to say that in a way that negates that beauty that you hold, but I want you to always remember that your body is but a container for the incredible spirit that lies inside. You are knowledgeable, teachable, kind, patient, empathetic, gentle, brave, and strong.
As much as I’m supposed to want to tell you to “love your body”, I don’t think that that is the most important thing. While I hope you love EVERY part of yourself, I want you to know that it’s okay if you don’t always LOVE your body. Please don’t hate it, but also remember that it is only your shell.
Your body will go through significant changes throughout your life, but those changes are nothing in comparison to the changes that your heart will go through. I can’t wait to watch as you develop into the powerful, unique adult person that the toddler-sized version of you was always destined to be.
As your mom, my body changed drastically as I changed from a person to a person carrying a baby, to a person with my heart now on the outside. I wanted to share a few of those physical changes with you so that I can tell you how those changes impacted me mentally.
- What is the first thing that you notice when you see someone pregnant? It might be her rotund belly. I grew up looking forward to the day that I would get to experience that feeling. Lucky for me, that day did come.
With it came feelings of vast insecurity as the body that was once mine became ours. I was larger in size than I had ever been before. I went through a period where I felt uncomfortable in my own skin, mostly due to a fear of judgment from what I believed others were thinking.
As my body grew bigger, I worked hard mentally to ignore it. I had a lot on my plate at that time and the thought of my body changing and being judged overwhelmed me.
The moment that you were born, all of that discomfort washed away. I realized that the body that I had seen for its weight gain, had been building a cozy, insulated cove for my baby.
- When I was about 25 weeks pregnant with you, I was overly proud of the fact that somehow, despite my genetics, I had managed to avoid stretch marks. I must have been doing something right. Good job body!
One day, when your daddy was taking photos of my bump, I caught a glimpse of the underside of my belly for the first time in months. It had several stretch marks delicately sprawled across the entirety of the bottom half of my bump. The humbling moment sent me spiraling.
I felt uncomfortable with my stretch marks up until you were born. Once I met you, I knew that whether or not I had stretch marks did not correlate with the mark that I knew that you were going to make in this world.
To summarize, I have spent the last few years learning to trust my body and its processes in taking care of both my children and myself. I’ve learned that how my body looks is simply a result of the work that my body is doing.
Instead of analyzing my image at face value, I’ve taken a few steps to ensure I don’t fall into my old habits of self-detriment. Here are my top ones:
- I don’t keep a full-sized mirror in my room. I found it provided too much opportunity to stare and criticize what was never intended to be criticized.
- I am intentional about what I put into my body. Not obsessive, but intentional. I believe that food is not only fuel that gives you the energy and strength to live your best life, but it is something to be enjoyed and used as a social tool.
Years of restriction and confusion on what I should be consuming lead me to where I am today: I am not totally confident or comfortable with what I choose to eat, but I truly try my best every day to listen to my body and my heart. That means eating nourishing foods and honoring my desires. Restriction is unnecessary and does more harm than good.
- I love taking the opportunity to move my body. Exercise should be just as much about joy and having fun as it is breaking a sweat and getting your heart rate up. I recommend exploring your options and spending time working out in a way that makes you happy.
Sweetheart, I want you to always remember that while your body will change over the next several years of your life, your value will always remain the same.
I am so proud of you for all that you are. I love you!
In this letter, the mother vulnerably and clearly explains to her daughter that while it is important to nourish and care for her body, her body is “the least interesting thing about her.” She goes on to explain the spectrum of emotions she felt as she watched her body grow and change to accommodate for growing a baby, giving birth, and breastfeeding.
As mothers and female role models, it is okay to remember that we do not have to be perfect in our self-love journeys. It is completely normal to feel a sense of surprise or discomfort as we watch our bodies change. What is important for the sake of not only our daughter’s mental health, but for our own, is that we speak about our bodies kindly, and without resentment.
When you are struggling with your body image, try to remember why your body is the way that it is. If you can’t think of a reason, try to remember the last time that your body did something powerful. If you struggle with that, take the focus off of your body, and try to remember all of the incredible feats your mind has accomplished!
The journey to self-love and healthy body image will continue for as long as “ideal body types” exist and flood the media. As mothers, it is not our job to hide our daughters from the world, but to safely introduce them to it, while helping them to embrace the parts of them that matter most.
Shenaar-Golan, Vered & Walter, Ofra. (2015). Mother-Daughter Relationship and Daughter’s Body Imag. Health. 07. 547-559. 10.4236/health.2015.75065.