I was 35 years old when my mother finally said the healing words I’d waited to hear since I was a little girl: “I know the way I hated my body hurt you.”
She was right, of course. When she talked about her distaste for her thick thighs, I immediately looked at my own chubby legs with a frown. I might not have known that my round face was considered less than ideal if I hadn’t heard my mom bemoan her own double chin. Maybe the stretch marks that crept across my breasts when they first began to develop wouldn’t have caused me so much shame if my mom wasn’t so utterly disgusted by the ones that showed up on her burgeoning belly when my brother was growing inside.
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My mother loves me desperately. She always has. She didn’t realize her chubby daughter was listening to every harsh, body-negative word she spoke about herself and absorbing that insecurity as part of my own identity.
My mom’s feelings about her body stemmed from a long, complicated series of events that began for her when she was just a child. She is truly a world-class beauty, but she has never been allowed to enjoy that because her naturally curvy body wasn’t in style when she was coming of age. Her quest for the thinness that always eluded her was about trying to alleviate her own pain. She never meant to transfer that suffering to me.
But she did. For many years, my life in a plus-size body was fraught with misery and self-loathing. I wanted to be someone else.
But I’m lucky because the internet has been “a thing” for my generation for most of our lives. I first gained access to body positivity as a concept and a movement online. It felt like home to me. In my late twenties and early thirties, I voraciously ingested content that helped me see myself in a way that mainstream diet culture never allowed.
By the time my mom and I had that beautiful talk about her role in my complicated relationship with my size, I was already living mostly happily in my plus-size body. I’d long abandoned the idea that I had to be thin to be worthy, beautiful, successful, respected or acknowledged in the spaces where I chose to exist.
And then I found out that I was going to have a daughter.
If anything could give me the resolve that I needed to stay intentional about keeping peace with my plus-size body and finding a way to exist happily in it, it was my Amelia.
I used my mom’s deep love for me and her expressed regret about her body negativity as a springboard to making better choices for my own child.
It is my deepest hope that my daughter will grow up in a home where she doesn’t feel the weight of body shame or comparison. However, hope isn’t enough to make that happen. It’s my job to ensure that it’s so. And that is exactly what I try my best to do.
When we talk about bodies, we always talk about them like they’re good. We read books with characters in diverse bodies. We affirm fat bodies. Very thin bodies. Athletic bodies. Trans bodies. Bodies with limb differences. Bodies that use assistive devices. Tattooed bodies. Hairy bodies. Every shade of body. If a person has a body, I tell my daughter that it’s a good body.
We don’t talk about grown-up diets or exercise for the purpose of weight loss in front of my girl. We discuss how food helps our bodies grow and work, and how important it is to eat lots of different foods so we can get everything we need. We run and play and take long walks in the zoo, and laugh and dance at ballet class and snuggle in the chair at night and talk about how much fun it is to use our bodies and discover all the things they can do.
After a lifetime of avoiding mirrors that show anything below my shoulders, I bought a full-length mirror for my bedroom. Every day, we get dressed and then walk to the mirror and say positive things like, “We look beautiful! Our hair is in matching buns!”
But the single most important thing I do for my daughter to help her grow up at peace with her body is to speak and think positively about my own. I have lived experience that tells me that my mom’s attitude toward her body was highly effective in shaping my self-image. I have to hope and pray and believe that my positive attitude will help my daughter see everything beautiful that she is and can be.