I don't weigh myself, anymore.
I've been thinking a lot about my daughters and how it seems inevitable that, one day, they will start to hate themselves. They will be beautiful beyond measure as children because they haven't learned yet, that, if you're a woman, you hate yourself. Then, without warning, they will suddenly feel not good enough. They will start to be cruel to themselves, because, if you're a woman, it really isn't even proper or normal if you're not cruel, especially to yourself.
They are children, now. When I say, "You are so beautiful." They say, "Yeah!"
When my husband tells me I am beautiful, I say, "You're only saying that because you've made some kind of resolution to say nice things to me more often."
Or, "I've gained ten pounds and feel like a cow."
Sometimes I roll my eyes.
The best I can do is keep my mouth shut and hope for the moment to pass quickly, because it's sickening, in a way, to hear these things... it's weirdly painful to endure the compliment that I'm beautiful.
That's how much I hate myself, because I'm a woman.
I don't know if I can undo what's been done to me. I'm trying. Some part of me must believe it's possible. Please believe me that I'm trying. I don't know if I can ever unravel the years of negativity and abuse I've endured at my own hands, and at the hands of a society that wants to keep me small and quiet, that wants me to buy a version of me that they're selling.
I do know, though, that there are mountains I can move for my children. There are millions of things I can do every day to stop that day from coming, where they wake up too fat and too ugly to be loveable, too fat and ugly be kind to themselves or to live with love and joy inside of them. That day when every moment, from that moment on, will be a struggle against losing themselves under a blanket of lies about what makes a woman worthwhile, beloved and happy.
We all know that, as parents, we are role models for our girls. We also worry constantly about our kids becoming teenagers. We are terrified that our girls will starve themselves, compare their bodies to other girls, to images in the media. We lay awake at night, worrying that they will hate what they see, when they look in the mirror. We worry so much, and we should. It's a terrible thing to be female, to be afraid of food, to refer to ourselves as disgusting, to put off eating and declare it a victory, despite the fact that we're shaking and panicked, that we had to fight with white knuckles to make it to dinner time. It's a terrible thing to be ashamed of what we are, to never feel good enough. It's a terrible thing to always be aspiring to be something other than what we are, right now.
It's also terrible to know that all of this is wrong and stupid, that it's petty and brainless and that we don't even believe any of it, yet, we can't shake it. We know it is wrong, but it has become us.
So we lie awake at night, fearing for our girls... and then we wake up in the morning and weigh ourselves in front of them. We grimace at what we see and have coffee and two bites of a banana for breakfast. We talk with other moms in front of them about losing weight, fitting into our pre-baby clothes. We make them big lunches full of healthy food and tell them to eat up! It will make them healthy, while we're evaluating food based on how many calories it contains. We say things in front of them like, "I have been so bad, lately. I need to stop eating chocolate chips." Sometimes we break into tears because a pair of pants doesn't fit us. We don't eat cake at birthday parties. We don't even eat pancakes on Saturday morning.
We perform all of these acts of fear and self-hatred in front of our children every day, and then we sit up at night worrying about whether our daughters will hate themselves, wondering what can be done about it. How can we keep our girls from succumbing to the pressure to evaluate their worth based on how much they weigh?
It's crazy, isn't it? We are modeling the very things we hope for them to avoid. We're teaching them every minute of every day how to hate themselves, be cruel to themselves, and feel a need to change themselves. We're showing them how to be unhappy and afraid. How not to succeed, how to live a lie that will hurt them and haunt them with every breath they take until the day they die.
The good news is that we can stop doing these things. If we can't stop how we're feeling inside, (and I hope that we can. I hope it's possible, but if it's not...) we can at least stop projecting our hate and fear and pettiness and paralysis onto our girls.
I can help my kids become women who value themselves for the right things, since I am the biggest influence in their development, after all.
I can refuse to weigh myself every morning, (or ever again) for one thing. Imagine what I was teaching my girls, all that time, by getting on the scale before I had a glass of water in the morning? When I either rejoiced or frowned based on what I saw. When I went into a panic because I'd gained weight. When the day's tone was set based on a difference in how many pounds I weighed.
I can refuse to talk about trying to lose weight with other women. I can stop announcing, "I am on a diet, starting today."
I can stop pushing myself through workouts that injure and exhaust me, telling myself that it's supposed to hurt, to be thinner or that it's worth it to be in chronic pain.
I can make sure to never tell someone that they look great, simply because they've lost weight. As a matter of fact, I can refrain from commenting on another person's appearance all together, unless they've done something creative or expressive that allows their inner beauty and style to shine through.
I can stop choosing clothing that "hides" and "flatters" my body.
I can be sure not to make comments about people's bodies when they aren't present or can't hear me. My kids hear me.
I can refuse to make another negative comment about my body's shape or size. Ever again.
I can stop mistreating the idea of healthiness, pretending that my mental state has nothing to do with how healthy am; pretending like losing weight at any cost is more important to my health than learning to live with calmness, strength, courage and happiness.
I can stop treating food in terms of calories. I can stop acting as though there are foods that are morally wrong to eat; that eating certain foods makes me a bad person, or a weak person. (Imagine what a tragedy it would be if, on my daughters 6th birthday, she felt anxiety and fought with herself over having a piece of her birthday cake, because she knew it was bad, and felt guilty and panicked afterward if she decided to have some.)
I can exercise in ways that make me happier and stronger. I can aspire to a level of health that allows me to move my body through the world with ease and joy.
I can make sure to compliment myself in front of my girls, every day. I can tell my girls that I am beautiful.
I can listen to myself and respect my ability to decide right from wrong. I can pay attention, when I feel like I need rest, or more exercise or more food or less food. I can listen to the voice inside of me that says that being judgmental of myself and other women doesn't feel good.
I don't have to live in fear that, if I skip working out this weekend because I'm exhausted, it means that I've failed and that I'm bad. I don't have to be afraid of sugar or fat. Being afraid of those things only makes my relationship with them strained and out of control.
I can step boldly into the world in the body I have NOW. I can encourage myself, practice rejecting negative messages I'm sending myself, and getting from the world around me.
I can gently encourage the people around me towards truth and kindness, when they make untrue statements about health and weight, or when they put themselves or other people down.
I can't control all of the negative messages my girls are receiving from the world, but I can make sure not to be a source of them. I am not helpless, in this world, even though I've been made to feel that way my whole life. I don't have to turn my children over to the world, having watched me make fearful choices about who I am, and about how I feel about who I am. I can stop my own hand from igniting that flickering flame of fear and self-doubt in them. I can't control everything. Maybe they will succumb to the pressure to hate themselves, maybe they will. You know what, though? I can make it a lot less likely by showing them how to live in their bodies with joy and respect and love. I can model self-love and acceptance. I can set them up to succeed, instead of setting them up to fail, crossing my fingers that they'll somehow learn to do what I never learned to do. They can learn to love themselves, because I can show them how.
Imagine how much more likely they'll be to reject cruel and hateful messages about their bodies if they've spent a lifetime loving them, and watching me love mine? If, during their developmental years, they watched their mother love who she was. If they weren't even aware that women were supposed to hate themselves until it was presented to them by somebody else. Might it not even seem weird and kind of silly to be told they aren't good enough by outside sources, after a lifetime of knowing for sure in their hearts and with every fiber of their existence, that they were beautiful beyond measure?
Doesn't it seem crazy that we didn't think of this of this before? It does, to me. It seems totally crazy that I haven't been doing this, since the moment my oldest daughter was born.