When our baby girls are handed to us, it begins. Is she perfect? Of course, of course, we tell ourselves.
We check each of her fingers and toes, and stroke her head, and hope for a future in which she will be happy and … well, to be honest, we hope she will be thin. Because life is just easier for girls who are thin, we think. Because I want what’s best for her (and what’s best is to be thin), we think. Thus begins our obsession with our daughters’ bodies.
At the playground, we watch our child and we wonder: is she fatter than the others? Thinner?
We watch carefully and observe all of the body types on the playground. Some are fatter, some are thinner. Some are tall, some are short. Is our daughter going to be “normal,” we wonder. Because normal is good. Normal is thin. And we want what’s best for her.
As she enters puberty, her hips and thighs and belly and breasts get pudgy, and we think: is she going to get fat? That would be terrible! I need to save her from this fate! It’s for her health! It’s for her future!
Her body grows and changes, and we get very uncomfortable, because now we see a woman emerging, and if she is not a thin woman, we believe she will suffer. Being thin is what we should want for our daughters, right?
We do this. We hope that our daughters have perfect bodies so they can avoid the endless dieting and self-abuse we suffer on account of our own bodies.
And some of our daughters hear the unspoken messages in our minds about their bodies, and, combined with all the overt societal pressure to be thin, internalize those messages and believe that they are only worthy if they maintain the thin ideal.
Some of our daughters get eating disorders. These disorders are based on many factors, but it’s impossible to ignore the role of a very messed up social environment that tells females that in order to be successful, loved and “good,” they must maintain small bodies. Our daughters’ eating disorders are not our fault, but we can be leaders in changing the environment and helping our daughters heal.
We grew up in the same sick environment, and now we can’t help but think that raising a thin daughter will protect her in the world. It will make life easier for her. She’ll fall in love with someone wonderful and have an amazing career, and her body will not hold her back from living a life we only dreamed of.
Because we ourselves, of course, have spent our lives worrying about our own bodies. We have spent our lives sensing our own mothers’ fear that we will be fat. We spent our lives watching our mothers and every other woman we know watch her weight to fit the body ideal. Because we “know” that in order to be successful and loved and worthy in this world means we must be thin.
But it’s time to stop this madness. It’s time to realize that our daughters (and ourselves) are much more than bodies. We know this on the deepest level. It is society that tells us that females need to be thin. It is society that tells us that a woman is only worthy if she is capable of going to great extremes to control her body size. To keep her body small yet somehow achieve power and success.
This is impossible. We cannot simultaneously believe that our daughters are powerful and still expect them to control their body sizes at all costs. Because controlling our body size is a major distraction from what it takes to be truly powerful in this world.
Let’s break the cycle of body hatred passed through maternal lines.
Let’s love our daughters’ bodies for what’s inside their bodies, and ignore their shape and size.
Let’s be revolutionaries!
Ginny Jones is the editor of More-Love.org. She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Ginny is also a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate difficult parenting situations.