Full disclosure: I don't have a daughter. I have an almost two-year-old son, who loves running with his belly out and eating anything and everything and wearing pink because it's bright and the color of Sesame Street's Abby, one of his favorite characters. A part of me so badly wants a daughter, and would enjoy raising a strong, unapologetic, feminist woman. On the other hand, a part of me is, sad to say, pretty afraid. I have friends with daughters and those friends have shared times when, even at a young age, their daughters have insulted their own bodies. It would break my heart to hear my son talk negatively about his body and, of course, he has the advantage of being born and identifying as male. For young girls, hurtful messages are hurled in their direction at a very young age; messages that are as powerful as they are detrimental.
From setting unrealistic beauty standards to stripping reproductive rights away to refusing equal pay for equal work, our patriarchal society isn't all that kind to women, especially women's bodies. Women are constantly being sexualized, yet penalized for being sexual. Women are constantly being blamed for their own sexual assault, as if it's a woman's sole job to police the potential actions of others. Young women are being slut-shamed via ridiculous dress codes, that perpetuate rape culture and victim-blaming. At every corner and turn, you can see our society demoralizing and devaluing women and, no matter how hard a parent can try, there are some things you simply cannot protect your children from.
Like I said, I don't know what it's like to try and protect your daughter from unrealistic beauty expectations or any of the aforementioned issues plaguing our culture, so I asked mothers who do have daughters about a time their daughter insulted her own body. The stories these six mothers bravely shared are a testament to the power of advertisements, the absolute necessity of unapologetic self-love, and the reason why we all need gender-equality.
The Time She Thinks Her Body Will Stop Her From Doing Something
"My daughter, six at the time, was frustrated with her hula hooping skills and wished she was fatter so the hoop wouldn't keep slipping off. It was kind of eye-opening for me, since I've spent my entire life wishing I was skinnier. Here was this little kid, cursing her slim-ness because it was preventing her from realizing her potential (or so she thought. Hula hooping just takes practice, no matter what your girth.)."
The Time You Realize There Might Be A Serious Problem
"I had the horrifying displeasure of having the 8th grade counselor call me at work to tell me something that instantly brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. [My daughter] had been skipping so many lunches and refusing any food her friends would try to get her to eat, that teachers and students had taken notice and were becoming alarmed.
One Saturday evening while we were out running errands, she became faint and proceeded to run a fever and sleep for about 12 hours. I thought she was growing (always) or having a lady moment, but even I had been making comments about how little she had been eating. 'What do you mean you're full? You always love tacos!' Her running and exercise had increased and food intake cut in at least half.
We've had some serious breakthrough moments about our self-worth, loving ourselves just as we are, and eating healthy vs not eating at all and scientifically what it does to our bodies when we abuse our fuel tank. While I don't anticipate this being a lifelong struggle for her, it hit me hard."
The Moment She Uses A Common, Hurtful Phrase
"My 16-year-old daughter has always been long, lean and athletic. She plays year-round competitive soccer, and pretty much can and will eat anything she wants, including a healthy share of chocolate, ice cream or anything sweet.
She was recently getting ready for a trip to Hawaii and anticipating plenty of time wearing a bikini. (And she looks great in a bikini. A little too great for my liking!)
The week before the trip I was going to the grocery store and she asked if I could pick up some ice cream. I said yes. But then I had mom brain and totally forgot so when I got home and she asked for it, I apologized and said I had not remembered.
She kind of laughed and said, 'That's ok. I kind of have a muffin top growing so it's just as good that I don't eat ice cream before my trip.'
Now, let me assure you, she has nowhere near a 'muffin top.' But this is the first time she has ever commented negatively on her weight/appearance. Made me sad to think that if someone who looks like she does even has a remote thought of insulting her body (even if in a joking manner) all of us moms of teen girls are doomed!"
The Moment She Thinks She's Not Good Enough
"At the time, our four-year-old daughter was attending a local preschool that lacked diversity. We later discovered that the teaching staff was oblivious to gender and racial stereotyping taking place there. After a few months there [my daughter] started saying things like, 'I don't like my brown eyes and hair, I wish I had blue eyes and blond hair, that's so much prettier' and, 'Will I have blond and blue eyed children?'
That was bad enough.
But the last straw came when, a few months later, she got sick with the flu. She had a fever and was throwing up for days. I was fussing over her at bath time, and made a comment that I was worried that she'd lost too much weight. At which point she said, 'And I don't want to gain it back, because girls are supposed to be skinny,' while sweeping her arms to her waist and resting them on her hips in a coquettish gesture, much like a pinup girl. I was horrified. We pulled her out of that school."
And Then, There's The Moment Your Daughter Insults You
"My daughter said, 'You're kind of fat' right to my face, unprovoked. It hurt my feelings and caught me off guard. I looked at her with a shocked look on my face and said, 'That was rude, and that hurt my feelings.' She didn't know what to say and I walked away, because I needed to."
And There's The Moment She Stands Up For Herself And Her Body
"My daughter has a huge scar across her belly from when she had her surgeries as a baby (she was born premature). We were at the beach one time when she was four, it was one of the only times I have ever let her wear a two piece but that was the only suit I could find, so she wore it. When she was playing in the water some other little girl came up, poked her scar and asked her why she had it, and if that scar meant she had got cut open. My daughter replied, 'I have my tummy scar because I was sick as a baby and this was the only way God could fix me. It's my beauty mark!' She didn't even think twice with her response, we've said it to her so many times that it just came out, and I was so proud."