What Are You Teaching Your Daughter About Her BodySometimes, something hits a nerve.

Last year, I read Anne Parris’ post on Midlife Boulevard. She offered this Dove commercial for discussion, highlighting the unintentional messages about body image that mothers give daughters.

It shocked me.

The subject? Moms talking about what they liked and disliked about their bodies, while stating with assurance that they had only taught their daughters positive messages about their own. The daughters, interviewed separately, were asked the same questions. The result?  The daughters mirrored their mothers’ criticism of her body. Almost exactly.

The mothers’ surprise and sadness was palpable. What they had honestly tried to prevent, they were creating in their daughters – self-consciousness and even self-loathing.

I read it slowly, appreciating Anne’s frank words. I thought I would tuck away the message. Maybe ask my son if I had affected him somehow.

Instead, the video stuck with me. I have mentioned it to patients, struggling with their own image.

It brought back memories.

I was incredibly relieved when I had a son. I was petrified that I would send the same messages to a daughter that had been passed down to me.

2014-10-20 07.09.12What I got from my mom was wrong.

Ladies never eat everything on their plate.”  I left more bites of food than I like to think about.

You have never looked better!,“she once exclaimed. I was 21. I weighed 101 pounds, 25 pounds less than I weigh now. Had had double pneumonia. Twice.

You really need to do something about yourself.” My mother had sat me down at the breakfast room table, expressing what would pass for condemnation. I had gained 8 pounds after being married for a year.

I promise, sadly enough, that I gave my parents lots of reasons to confront me.

This was the only time in my life she did so.

What effect did all this have?

Full-blown anorexia in college. I didn’t allow out-of-town friends to visit before I got married, because I had gained 3 pounds since I had seen them. I sought diet pills in my later 20’s that left me so hyped up, I felt like I was practically flying.

I starved myself before trips home, knowing my body would be quietly assessed.

I tried to act like none of this got to me.

Anorexia is an attempt at control. Yet the number on the scale controls you.

My mom was caught in the same trapped thinking she taught me. Without a doubt, she did not mean to hurt me. She wanted me to feel attractive. Have wonderful self-esteem. Catch a man.

It’s just sad.

After she died, many people said, “Your mother was so beautiful. Always so well-dressed.”

But she could not value herself.

Anorexia is an attempt at control. Yet the number on the scale controls you.I am certainly not anorexic now. I love to cook. And I enjoy good food.

The legacy that remains is having to monitor my thinking and occasionally my choices. Automatic calorie counts register in my head. I pick toppings off of pizza. “I don’t like crust,” I explain. (That’s a bunch of hooey.)

If I receive a compliment, “Thank you” comes out of my mouth. What is my thought? “If you really could see the way I look, you wouldn’t say that.”

When I see a picture of myself, the first thing I search out is if the little roll around my waist shows. If it does, I fight feeling shame, at least for a minute or two. “Everyone must see me as out of control,” the voices whisper.

In that moment, I feel unacceptable.

This is what I call “eating-disordered thinking.” Ruthless eating disorder gremlins that whisper in your ear – that ultimate control is needed.

Now I confront those voices. I actively replace those thoughts.

I am winning this battle. One meal. One picture. One compliment at a time.

I am lucky. Many do not. They remain miserable and obsess about their body.

No thin is too thin for them.

I couldn’t disagree more. It’s hard work to detach from those messages – that shame.

It’s so worth it.


Thank you for reading. Please share if you believe it might help someone you know. If you have an eating disorder or “eating-disordered thinking,” please consider seeking treatment.

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Woman and young girl image courtesy Unsplash.  Table and chairs image courtesy Life of Pix.

Originally published (modified) on Midlife Boulevard.