The Fears I Have About My Daughter as a Mom in Eating Disorder Recovery
While drying my hair, I glanced in the mirror to look around for my nearly four-year-old daughter. It didn’t take long for my eyes to lock on to the sweet, innocent little girl I birthed. When I saw her, my heart sank. I turned around to look at my daughter as she was standing on the “little black box of doom.” Asking her what she was doing, she replied, “Measuring myself!” in her cheerful, sweet voice. I felt devastated, completely crushed that my daughter was mimicking what so many women have done before. Sometimes it seems stepping on the scale is a timeless act that brings girls into womanhood. Unable to think of a response, I turned back around and finished drying my hair.
My family and I lead a life that is a little out of the ordinary. We live on a 35-foot catamaran sailboat in a marina, meaning we often utilize the marina’s communal shower facilities. We sold our home and moved aboard to lead a more simplistic life. It is a lifestyle that has greatly increased my confidence in my body and strengthened my recovery. A few months after moving to our marina, I noticed a woman was leaving her scale in the shower stalls. After moving it several times, I finally left a note asking her to not leave it in the showers anymore. While I left the note to help protect myself from making a recovery mistake and stepping on the scale, I am about to do it again — but this time to protect my daughter.
I haven’t owned a scale since November 2014, before I went to treatment for the eating disorder that plagued me for more than a decade. I also haven’t known my weight for at least six months — maybe more. My daughter is already learning from others the very thing I’ve worked so hard to protect her from. I know at her age, there is no emotional attachment to the number she sees, but I fear someday there will be, and it will happen long before I am prepared. I fear she will go to school and learn from others her weight is equivalent to self-worth. She may learn her size is representative of how eligible she is to be loved. I hate that she may learn all of this, but I feel it is inevitable because that is the society in which we live. Unfortunately for her, my daughter is already more likely than her peers to struggle with an eating disorder, simply because of her genetics. The world is often unkind to women and their bodies, which only increases her chances of struggling with food, weight and body image. I’ve worked hard to learn to love my body with all its curves, stretch marks and little quirks. My body is beautifully unique and I want nothing more than to teach my daughter her body is also beautiful and special. I strive to never say anything negative about myself in general, but especially not in front of her. When I do have moments when I struggle to accept my body and who I am as a woman, I work through them in order to continue modeling positive behavior. I know she has seen me looking sideways into the mirror, and I wonder if she suspects what I am thinking. I tell her she is strong, smart and kind, while also telling her she is beautiful. Once, a boy in her class told her, “girls can’t play soccer,” and my daughter came home visibly upset. I wiped away her tears and told her she is able to do anything she wants, as long as she tries her best. She smiled and ran around saying, “I can play soccer!” for the next week.
I am absolutely terrified of the fate that may await my daughter as she enters puberty. Will she think she is fat and restrict her food? What about purging? I know how I kept my secrets, will she try the same things? If I focus on the “what ifs” of her life, it becomes overwhelming and I have to be cautious not to wander too far down the doomsday path. I cannot protect my daughter from everything — though I may try my hardest — and seeing her standing on a scale at the marina is an example of just that. All I can do is strive to model positive behavior around food and work to display a positive body image. My daughter will pick up on societal norms in regards to weight, body image and appearances. All I can do is work hard at home to counteract those norms. I do not want to fail my daughter in this area, as she one day enters womanhood. For too long we, as women, have handed down these norms to our children, impressing upon young women that size and weight matter more than other things. Our message is that appearances are of the utmost importance.
I believe our daughters deserve better. We have one chance to teach children to love themselves for who they are, and to appreciate their bodies for all they can do, not just what they look like. We are failing. As a society, we are failing to instill in our children that which can help save them from body shaming, eating disorders and wishing they could be different. I am begging those of you with children in your homes, or children who visit your homes often, to ditch your scales. If you feel like you can’t rid yourself of the scale, then put it in an inconspicuous place. Help teach children that the number doesn’t matter, because in all reality, it doesn’t. Health happens at every size and it is our duty to teach children the scale does not designate worth, beauty or the ability to be loved. Let’s stop failing our children in this way and start teaching them how to truly love and appreciate their bodies exactly as they are.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
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Thinkstock photo via Pimonova.