Teaching Our Daughters To Love Their Bodies
Dara Chadwick, author of "You'd Be So Pretty If...Teaching Our Daughters To Love Their Bodies--Even When We Don't Love Our Own" talks about the challenge of helping our daughters reject society's harsh criticism of the female body.
Author Dara Chadwick grew up with a mother who didn't like her own body and following her Mom's example, she ended up not liking her own body that much either. When she began to write a Weight Loss Diary column for Shape magazine, she started worrying about how her weight-loss would impact her daughter. Was she perpetuating a cycle of self-loathing? Dara began to began to explore how mothers can unintentionally teach their daughter's to hate their own bodies. In this interview with Commitment, Dara shares her journey from disliking her own body to enpowering her daughter to accept her body as it is.
Commitment: You wrote this book on how we can teach our daughters to love their bodies. Why was this a subject that is important to you?
Dara Chadwick: I grew up with a mom who didn’t like her body and that had a big effect on me. She wasn’t critical of my body, but she was tough on herself. When I had a daughter of my own, I found that I was slipping into some of the behaviors I picked up from my mom: dressing to “hide” my body, cracking jokes about my body, brushing off compliments, etc. When I wrote Shape magazine’s Weight-Loss Diary column in 2007, I really began to pay attention to how my habits, words and actions were affecting my kids (my daughter was 11 at the time and my son was nine). I realized that with a little conscious effort, I could set a healthy example of self-acceptance for my kids.
Commitment: What lessons about the body do mothers pass on to their daughters? How did your mother's body image impact your life and how you saw yourself? What was your body image like as a young woman, and how did this impact your choices and life?
Dara: I think body image is a legacy that mothers pass along to their daughters. If you grew up with a mom who liked her body and accepted herself, there’s a good chance you’ll find it easier to like your body and accept yourself, too. But if you grew up listening to and watching a mom who was critical of herself, you may find it very easy to pick up those same self-critical habits. It’s what you know, and what you’ve internalized about how grown women relate to their bodies.
My mother was self-critical and made a lot of jokes about her body. It really bothered me because I didn’t understand why she was saying those things. As I grew older, I found myself casting the same self-critical, self-deprecating eye at myself.
My body image has been all over the place through the years. From self-loathing in early adolescence to flirting with an eating disorder during high school to superfit fitness instructor in my early 20s to overweight (and again self-loathing) young mom in my 30s. Now, at 41, I do my best to take care of the body I have and to treat it – and speak about it – with kindness.
Commitment: Because of what you experienced with your Mom, what do you hope to teach your daughter about her body?
Dara: I hope to teach my daughter – through my example -- to honor her body by taking care of it with healthy foods and reasonable exercise and to know that if she does that, she can be content with being a healthy version of herself.
Commitment: What are some ways a mother can teach her daughter a healthy respect and love for her body, regardless of her size or shape?
Dara: Great question! In my book, I offer lots of tips for setting a healthy example, but here a few of the most important: Watch your words – nix the negative comments about your body and let her hear you say something positive about yourself every day. Model healthy choices – let her see you eat healthfully most of the time, but make sure she sees you treat yourself, too. That’s the difference between healthy balance and obsession.
Get active with her – invite her to take a walk after dinner or challenge her to a living room dance contest. Let go of the chase of perfection – look your best and then forget it. And don’t let your feelings about your body dictate what you will and won’t do in life.
Commitment: What are ten things a mother can do to help her daughter grow up liking her body, and instead of succumbing to pressure from peers or the media that says beauty comes in only one size and shape?
1. Read her magazines. Flip through the pages to get a feel for what’s she reading about.
2. Watch TV with her. If she loves shows like America’s Next Top Model, sit and watch it with her.
3. Teach her to look critically at media images. Watch online videos that show how photos are re-touched and then see if the two of you can spot re-touching in the photos you see.
4. Evaluate advertising. Sit and look at advertisements with her and see if the two of you can figure out how a model’s “image’ is being used to sell the advertiser’s product.
5. Pay attention to what her friends are talking about. When it’s your day for carpool, it’s a great time to “overhear” conversations about beauty, size and weight.
6. Help her evaluate criticism. Make sure she knows that if someone teases her about her body, it’s about them – not her body. Help her figure out what might be behind it. Is the teaser jealous of her or did she see her talking to a boy that the teaser likes, etc.?
7. Have the “boy” talk. Make sure she knows that yes, boys like to look at pretty girls, but they’re also attracted to a sense of humor, intelligence and a caring personality. She’s more than just her appearance.
8. Understand conformity. Yes, it’s important to teach her to celebrate her own unique beauty, but try to remember what it felt like to want to be just like your friends. As long as they’re not inappropriate or against your family’s values, let her wear the styles her friends are wearing.
9. Help her feel that she looks good. Clothes that fit well, a good haircut, etc., will help her feel that she looks her best and helps build body confidence.
10. Keep her talking. Make sure she knows she can come to you with anything – and that you won’t freak out when you hear it.
Commitment: Tell us about your experience as a Weight-Loss diary columnist for Shape magazine. What did this experience teach you about weight loss and body image? How did it change you?
Dara: My experience with Shape taught me how important it is to give myself permission to take care of my health. I think that’s a problem for a lot of women, especially mothers. We’re so busy taking care of everyone else that we don’t make time for ourselves. The Shape experience helped me make taking care of myself a priority.
I also learned that there are limits to how much you can change your body. Even after eating a very “clean” diet and exercising two hours a day, there were still parts of my body that I couldn’t re-shape. That’s OK. I’m the healthiest, best version of myself and for me, that’s enough.
Commitment: How can a mother destroy her daughter's body image without even being aware of it?
Dara: By being overly critical of her own body. Most girls think their moms are beautiful; if she thinks you’re beautiful and you constantly put yourself down, you’re teaching her that she doesn’t know what beauty is. And if she looks like you? Your words and behavior toward yourself tell her you don’t think she’s beautiful, either.
Commitment: What if a mother is concerned that her daughter is getting obese, how can she help her daughter make good food choices without being a 'food police' or a constant criticizing nag? Can you share with us your 'bun' story and what that experience taught you.
Dara: Sure…at a family dinner, my daughter reached out to take a third dinner roll and I snapped at her. “Do you really need that roll?” I asked. I felt awful as soon as I said it – she had such a hurt look on her face. I vowed then and there that I’d never do that again.
If your daughter has a weight problem, she knows. She doesn’t need you to point it out or try to control her. Instead, take a family-wide approach to getting healthier. Get some healthy cookbooks and ask her to cook a meal with you. Invite her to take a walk. Make the effort to make healthy changes together. It doesn’t require a big conversation, either; don’t talk about diets and calories and needing to “lose weight.” Just start making healthier choices…together!
Commitment: What should a Mom do if a friend or relative teases their daughter about her weight?
Dara: I think moms absolutely need to jump to their daughter’s defense immediately by saying something like, “Are you kidding? She looks great just the way she is.” Later, if your daughter brings it up, help her evaluate the source of the criticism. Always help your daughter see that it’s about the person doing the teasing and not about her.
Commitment: How can a mother help her daughter get the exercise20she needs, and at the same time, understand she has a life and is more than just a body?
Dara: If there’s a sport she likes, encourage her to play. If she’s worried about looking foolish, consider a private lesson. Make sure she has the equipment she needs, a ride to practice and you cheering her on. If she’s not into sports, invite her to walk with you, take a bike ride or doing something else that you both enjoy. Help her see exercise as an enjoyable part of her day, not as a chore that has to be accomplished.
Commitment: What special body image issues do girls entering their teen years face? What can mothers do to help their daughters through this time of self-doubt and often loathing?
Dara: Middle-schoolers’ bodies are changing so rapidly. Start with the basics. Make sure she understands that her body is changing and above all, make sure she understands that some weight gain is a normal part of puberty, not a problem that needs to be addressed. Help her realize that bodies develop at different rates, too, so she may feel out of sync with some of her friends.
When she has bouts of self-doubt and if she’s open to it, share some stories from your own adolescence. Talk about how you felt when your body changed. Above all, though, help her understand that this changing body is just that – changing. It’s not a finished product.
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About The Author: Dara Chadwick is a former magazine editor, wrote the 2007 Weight Loss Diary column for Shape. She lives in Jamestown, Rhode Island with her family.