Even before I became a mom I was aware of how a mother's actions and words can affect her daughter's own self image. As a preschool teacher I encountered many a young girl who thought she was fat, when really she was just how she should be. Young girls have soft, pudgy-ish bodies. Even when they are lean, they have soft bellies and thighs. They are squishy and cuddly and perfect.
I was heartbroken to hear a young student of mine say how big her belly was as she grabbed it and complained that her thighs touched. When I later spoke to her mom about what I witnessed, she cringed as she realized that her 4 year-old was mimicking what she herself has done in the young girl's presence. All you have to do is google "mothers and daughters and body image" and you will see numerous articles on this very subject.
So here is the thing, as a grown woman who has more belly fat than I would like at this time, I am so tempted to do that very thing. There are times when I am getting dressed and I am so frustrated at myself for not losing the weight already that I want to rant about it. Out loud, very loudly, not silently. But Lilly is usually right there next to me, my little shadow that she is, and so I tell myself to shut the hell up. It is a little inner argument I have with myself.
I can totally picture it: I grab my belly/thighs/arms and say, "Ugh, why is my (insert body part) so big? Why can't I stick to a diet? This just looks gross in this dress/shirt/pants." Lilly overhears me and looks down at her belly/thighs/arms. She sees how her belly sticks out a bit or notices that her thighs jiggle as she jumps up and down like a lunatic to the Fresh Beat Band. She starts to wonder if maybe her belly is too big...
Research backs this up:
Throughout the daughter's childhood, Fuerstein says, mother and daughter become like mirrors for each other's sense of self. The daughter, in particular, tries to fit into her mother's view of her. In a family with several sisters, for example, one daughter is often seen as the responsible sister while another is the popular sister. At the same time, the daughter is influenced by her mother's own self-image. This last is called modeling, Fuerstein says. When mothers have a realistic self-image, the modeling is healthy. But mothers who are unhappy with some feature of their body or personality can produce daughters who see themselves through the same distorted mirror. For example, mothers who constantly talk about how fat they are are more likely to produce daughters who feel fat as well—even if neither is overweight. - Laura Arens Fuerstein to write "My Mother, My Mirror" (New Harbinger, 2009)
How can Lilly know that her chubbiness is the most beautiful thing in the world to me? I am still amazed, 4 years later, that we made that skin, that my milk nourished her body for so long. I tell her all the time how beautiful she is. I squeeze her and kiss her and rub lotion in to keep her skin as soft as it should be. I tell her how much I love her thighs, belly, heinie, face, feet, hands...I tell her how smart she is and proud I am of her when she overcomes her own little struggles. I do not want there to be any confusion in her mind that she is a beautiful girl, no matter what she weighs and looks like. I do not want Lilly to ever think or feel "less than" because her thighs touch or she does not have a flat belly. Deep down inside I am trying to convince myself that I am beautiful even with jiggly thighs and a big belly; that I deserve to love myself. But until that happens, until I know how beautiful I really I am, I will fake it. Fake it till you make it is an old saying I have heard many times. I will fake it so that Lilly can make it.