There’s a picture on the wall of me in my mid twenties. Tanned and healthy, I was a lot slimmer than I am now. My face was yet to be lined by the years of broken sleep, worry and guilt parenthood would soon bring. Today I glance at that photo and can only dream of looking like that again. But, I also remember how I felt at the time that photo was taken. I was thinking, ‘Please don’t take a picture of me; I’m so fat and ugly.’
That’s pretty much how I’ve felt in front of every camera, my whole life. Even on my wedding day, after months of strenuous dieting, I didn’t feel happy with my body. Photos I now look at where I was slimmer, were taken at times I thought I was fat. I have never been happy with my body. Always dieting, then bingeing then dieting again.
What a waste of energy. What a waste of life. It’s only today, when I try to see life through the eyes of my six year old daughter, I understand how an early adaption of a negative body image can stick with you forever.
I don’t want that for her.
My own mother was always on a diet. She was never happy with her weight or her body and shied away from the camera whenever she could. She called herself ‘fat’. I never understood this because I thought she was beautiful. I know she didn’t voice her negative attitude towards her body deliberately and I’m certain she had no idea the impression her behaviour made on my young mind. But nonetheless, it stuck. She was never happy with her body. I am never happy with my body. It is a senseless cycle.
And it ends here. It ends with my daughter and my promise to her that I will help her cultivate a lifelong, positive body image.
So to my beautiful, willful and wonderful daughter here are my promises to you:
YOU WILL NEVER HEAR ME SAY, ‘I’M SO FAT’
I may feel it (and I’m working really hard to be happy with my body, please bear with me) but the words will never pass my lips in front of you. I will never comment on my size or the size of anybody else in front of you. It’s not important.
What is important is how you look inside. Are you kind? Are you considerate? Do you think nice thoughts? I promise, my love, we will focus on that and not how our bodies look and what we clothe them in.
YOU WILL NEVER HEAR ME SAY, ‘I’M ON A DIET’
Faddy diets rarely work, fact. My weight has bobbed up and down thanks to different food-limiting diets. I have never been able to maintain the weight at the lower end of the scale. Perhaps my body is just not meant to be that way.
At a young age, I learned the calorie content of pretty much every food. This has never left me. I rarely eat anything without knowing exactly how many calories and how much guilt I am consuming.
I promise to guide you away from obsessive calorie counting and towards seeing food as fuel. I will help you choose to eat foods that make your body feel good and reject foods that don’t.
Food is a blessing, it is a gift. I promise I will never let you see it as I do – a calorie containing vessel to be over-analysed and feared.
Enjoy your food my sweet girl. Have fun with it. Always be thankful for it.
YOU WILL NEVER SEE ME WEIGH MYSELF
I got rid of my scales a few years ago, after daily weighing became slightly obsessive. I will never let the quality of your days be determined by which way the needle points.
You may have to be weighed at certain times in your life but you don’t need to do it every single day. You don’t need to look at a small white box in your bathroom with trepidation and fear.
There will be no small white box tucked under the bathroom sink while you live under my roof, that I can guarantee you.
YOU WILL NEVER HEAR ME GET HUNG UP ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF ME
I have been called fat, ugly and spotty. No doubt, you will be called hurtful things too in the course of your lifetime. People can be mean. People will be mean. Sadly, in the digital age you’re growing up in, it’s even easier for them to do so. You need to be strong. I can help you with that.
In my early thirties, I reached this glorious position of no longer caring what people think or say about me. I don’t know why or how it happened, it just did. The relief this way of thinking brings with it is palpable. My life has truly been transformed for the better because I no longer care about other people’s opinions of me.
I hope you won’t have to wait thirty years to feel this way. I intend to help you grow with this mind-set. You will never hear me worry about what anyone thinks of me – from my appearance down to my actions. I don’t care. I know I’m a good person, just doing my best and never intending to upset or offend anyone. If the same is true of you (and I’m sure it will be), that’s all you need to remember.
I WILL TELL YOU HOW BEAUTIFUL YOU ARE EVERY SINGLE DAY OF YOUR LIFE
You are beautiful. Everyone is beautiful. I tell you this every day and will continue to do so while I have breath in my body.
The women you will see in magazines and on your screens are not real. They’ve been air brushed, made-up and styled. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to be like them. Just be your own true and perfect self.
One day you may have children and your body will change. That’s ok, you’ll get used to it. You often remark about my flabby tummy and the stretchmarks that decorate it. I always tell you the same thing. That tummy gave you and your siblings life. It enabled me to feel you move and grow. It got stretched, punched and pummelled. Of course it’s not going to look like a washboard (it never did in the first place to be fair).
You have a beautiful, healthy body and you must always be grateful for that. We know the implications of a body that isn’t healthy and in your little sister’s case, a heart that doesn’t work. Be grateful for your body. Love it and respect it because it is perfect.
And finally my dear daughter, while I strive cultivate a positive body image in you, I promise to take my own advice and try to do the same for me.
Make sure you always pose for photos, enjoy mealtimes and take pride in your beautiful body. That is all I wish for you.