by Kayla Carpenter
A few years ago, my early-elementary-aged daughter began to obsess over her weight. I would often catch her trying to skip meals. When forced to eat, she would choose small portions of whatever food she deemed most beneficial to her “diet.” Hours were spent staring at herself in the mirror, analyzing every tiny bump and perceived bulge on her body. She knew her weight down to the decimal and would turn into a puddle of tears any time that exercise did not immediately result in the number on the scale dropping.
It broke my heart. I never said or implied that my daughter needed to lose weight, or that she was anything less than perfect. I would tell her at least once a day that she was a strong, beautiful and healthy young woman. Who did this to her? I would ask myself. Was this a result of society, or the media? Were kids at school bullying her? How could she not see how wonderful she truly was?
The answer to my questions turned out to be a little closer to home than I had imagined.
Let’s rewind for a moment. In 2013, after giving birth to my two oldest daughters, I lost a tremendous amount of weight. I ate an incredibly strict and low-calorie diet, worked out at the gym for two hours a day, six days a week, and would try to fit exercise into any spare moment I had at home. As a result, I was what society would classify as “thin” and “in good shape.” However, I was not satisfied. I was happy with my “weight loss progress,” I would say, but would constantly tout that I had, “a long way to go.”
After a few years of keeping up my “healthy lifestyle,” my stomach was still distended from two pregnancies, with soft, saggy skin that was covered in stretch marks. My thighs still didn’t have a gap, and I could not seem to lose the last few pounds that I thought I needed to lose. I was constantly comparing myself to other moms on “fitspo” social media platforms. I would see them, then look in the mirror and see a body that I felt didn’t reflect all of my hard work. As a result, I would cry all the time and felt utterly defeated. I visited a plastic surgeon to consider a tummy tuck. When the price was more than I could afford, I went extra hard at the gym, did workout challenges, took diet pills, and even ate from toddler bowls using training utensils to help with portion control. I did anything I could to help me reach my “goal weight,” but I never did.
Now, fast forward to 2017. I was pregnant. Again. Over the next two years, my early-elementary-aged daughter watched as I went through two pregnancies. She watched as I took pride in not gaining weight for the first few months. As time went on, she listened as I nervously talked about how long it might take for me to reach my pre-pregnancy weight once I gave birth. After my pregnancies, she heard my immediate plans to start dieting. Once I stopped breastfeeding, she observed me breaking down every day, sobbing as the number on the scale continued to increase despite my every effort to lose weight. She heard me complain that pregnancy had ruined all my hard work, and she heard me telling my husband that I hated my body and felt absolutely disgusting.
She observed me equating my worth to my weight and my beauty to my body size, and followed in my footsteps.
I was the reason she could not see how wonderful she truly was.
The moment that I realized this, I started to look at myself differently. I decided to throw out my scale. I decided that my worth would not be determined by a number. I now eat food that I enjoy, food that nourishes my body and makes me feel good. I choose to not “embrace my hunger,” but rather embrace the energy and nutrition that food provides. I am active in ways that I enjoy and that help to strengthen my body. I have begun to appreciate my body and all that it has done for me. The four beautiful children it has made. The strong arms I have to carry and wrap around my daughters. The legs that allow me to take walks with and play with my children. The belly that reminds me that each one of my daughters was at one time so small that she fit within that soft skin, covered in stretch marks.
I know health comes in all sizes, and I try to love and find beauty in every inch of myself. I might fail some days. Some days I might cry and mourn the body I once had. But I quickly wipe my tears away and tell myself I am so much more than a body. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a whole woman.
My daughter sees this and follows in my footsteps.
She doesn’t stare in the mirror anymore. She doesn’t look for imperfections. She doesn’t worry about what she eats. She enjoys the exercise she gets from sports without caring about the impact it might have on her weight. She doesn’t even know how much she weighs anymore. I still tell her every day that she is a strong, beautiful and healthy young woman. Now, she can finally see that it’s true.
Recently, I had finished getting ready for the day and walked out of my room. My daughter saw me and said, “Mom, you’re beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I said without my typical rebuttal.
“And I don’t think you need to lose weight,” she said.
“Me either. I take care of my body and I know I am healthy. Health comes in all sizes, you know.”
“I know, you’re super healthy!” she said, then added, “Mom, people always say I look like you.”
“I know,” I replied, “What do you think?”
“I think I do,” she said with a big smile as she turned and confidently walked away.