Wednesday, February 5, 2014

baby weight and body image perception

Positive body image perception is something that I have struggled with the majority of my life.  I still struggle with it from time to time as I try to lose the last of the baby weight.  I spent most of my high school years counting calories and trying to lose weight that, looking back, I really didn't have.  In college, I was constantly working out, dieting and/or eating obnoxiously small meals, trying to be as skinny as I could be because I thought skinny was beautiful and skinny was a goal that needed to be obtained.  When I look at pictures of myself in college, I want to go back in time, smack that girl and tell her to eat a cheeseburger.  

Danielle, Me, Kari and Emily
Fall 2005
I look back at how skinny I was and I can barely recognize that girl.  I never want my daughter to feel the need to be that skinny.  It's funny the things that become important once you have a child.  Things I never knew I wanted to protect my child(ren) from weigh so heavy on my mind and on my heart.  I never want Natalie to feel the way that I felt.  I never want Natalie to think the way that I did.

Throughout college and for several years after college, I went to different therapists to try to combat my negative body image perception.  I am so incredibly thankful for the help I received there, but also for Brandon who has always made me feel beautiful regardless of how I think I look.  He always reinforced a positive body image for me and he helped me to turn things around.  With his help, I put a focus on eating and being healthy and feeling and looking good in my jeans, instead of worrying about the size of said jeans.  
Summer 2008
Fall 2011
33 weeks pregnant with Natalie (2013)
December 2013 - 3.5 weeks after having Natalie
The progression to being healthy and happy with my body happened slowly, but now I look more like a person and less like a girl desperately in need of a cheeseburger.  I relapsed a little bit when I was gaining my pregnancy weight, and constantly beat myself up for how terrible I thought I looked.  Again, Brandon was a constant source of support.  He was constantly encouraging me and refocusing my negative energy.  He took the focus from how "fat" I thought I was and put the focus on the fact that I was growing a baby, our baby.  He never once (intentionally) made me feel like I wasn't beautiful.

I recently read an article by Kasey Edwards called "When Your Mother Says She's Fat".  So much of this article rang true for my own childhood.  If you don't have time to read it, then I will give you a quick summary, but highly recommend going back to give it a read.  Kasey basically says that when she was 7 years old her mother told her that she (the mother) was "fat, ugly and horrible" and it had to be true because mother's don't lie. Here are a few excerpts from the article:
Years later, I looked back on this conversation and the hundreds that followed and cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure and unworthy. Because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.
- - - - -  

Now I understand what it’s like to grow up in a society that tells women that their beauty matters most, and at the same time defines a standard of beauty that is perpetually out of our reach. I also know the pain of internalising these messages. We have become our own jailors and we inflict our own punishments for failing to measure up. No one is crueler to us than we are to ourselves.
- - - - -   

And it’s not just about you and me any more. It’s also about Violet. Your granddaughter is only three and I do not want body hatred to take root inside her and strangle her happiness, her confidence and her potential. I don’t want Violet to believe that her beauty is her most important asset; that it will define her worth in the world. When Violet looks to us to learn how to be a woman, we need to be the best role models we can. We need to show her with our words and our actions that women are good enough just the way they are. And for her to believe us, we need to believe it ourselves.
I am in no way saying that my mother is the reason for my eating disorder, but I would be lying if I said she was not a contributing factor.  I remember countless conversations where my mother would tell me how lucky I was to be "such a skinny minny".  I remember the countless fad diets my mom did from Atkins to South Beach to Richard Simmons (sorry for outing you, Liz).  It wasn't just my mom though, who I am happy to say has developed a healthy living plan and looks and feels fabulous now.  I dated guys who put a focus on how skinny I was and said I wouldn't look as good to them if I gained any weight. On top of that, I went to an all-girls' high school that, while amazing and truly a positive overall experience, also subconsciously put pressure on me to look a certain way.  I was warned so heavily about the "freshman 15" that I made it a point to lose weight freshman year, not gain it.

Now, as I watch Natalie grow and I pressure myself to lose the last of the baby weight, body imagine perception is something that has been weighing heavy on my mind.  How do I prevent the negative body image I had from happening to my daughter?  I don't really know.  It's all uncharted territory.  I know that I have to live a healthy lifestyle the way my mom is now, and not project my own negative body image on Natalie, the way my mom unknowingly did on me.  I know I have to show her that there are all different kinds of beauty and that beautiful comes in all shapes and sizes.  I can't always protect her from outside influences, but I can try my hardest to help her not let any negative comments ruin her.  Honestly, I am so relieved and so happy that Natalie, too, has Brandon to encourage her and tell her how beautiful a person she is the way he has always done for me.  I know with Brandon in her corner, she will always know how smart, strong and wonderful she is, can be and will be.