“I’m fat.” said my 5 year old.
“Why are Emma’s legs skinny and mine fat? I hate my legs.”
They’re the words that stopped me in my tracks.
My daughter was only 5 and in her first year of school, when she came home deflated, uttering these words.
As a mother who was suffering a secret eating disorder, as a mother who remembered all too well how much larger I felt than my friends, even though I was a normal size, alarm bells went off in my head.
Initial panic that she had stepped into a world I knew all too well, a world I didn’t expect her to land in for many years to come, a world I wished for her never to enter, yet at the innocent age of 5, here we were.
I grew up hating my calves, they were thick and chunky, not slender and lean like the legs of the people I’d envied. Could she have caught this from me? Had she overheard the words in my head each time I tried to wear a short skirt, or that time I decided I’d try wearing shorts before quickly running upstairs to change back into the comfort of my leggings because I couldn’t stand how my legs looked?
When your daughter starts comparing herself to others, you want nothing more than to fill her with reassurance, reminding her how we are all different, how we’re all meant to be different, that the size of our bodies doesn’t define us, yet at that point all I could acknowledge was the deep fear that she was going to end up where I’d been.
“Darling,” I said, “Your legs are amazing! They help you run and jump and play and cartwheel! Your legs don’t have to look like Emma’s, because you aren’t Emma, you’re you, and your legs are exactly the way they are meant to be!”
Our conversation ended, but I was haunted by the messages she was receiving from my disordered ways, the on/off again relationship I had with dieting, the binge eating, the weighing of portions, the separate meals. What message was I sending to her? Certainly not one that showed her I was happy with my body.
When I was growing up, my mum battled with her body. She was always on or off a diet, and I vowed when she was at her heaviest weight, that I would never look like her. I never learnt how to have a normal relationship with food, I learnt everything I knew from watching my mum, she struggled and she fought, never once did I see her demonstrate any sort of kindness towards her body.
And here I was, doing the same thing to my own daughter.
Less than 12 months later, I began my journey towards change. I learnt to live without the crutch of a disorder, I put my fears of weight gain to bed once and for all.
I swapped the mantra ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’, with ‘you are not your weight’, and through recovery I learnt that I was in fact so much more than the appearance I had been obsessed with for as long as I could remember.
My focus switched from being about myself to being about the messages I was sending to my own children about their bodies. I began saying positive things about the body I’d treated so badly. On the inside I was filled with gratitude that my body had survived all I’d put it through. I found myself wanting to care for myself, wanting to nourish my body, wanting to make it strong but not for weight loss, but rather for the example it set for my children, and as a way to apologise to my body.
My eldest daughter is now 7, and she still talks about her body being different to her friends but I now confidently role model an understanding of how incredible our bodies are. I talk to her about how I didn’t like my legs when I was younger, and that that’s the reason why we have to love her legs even more. I explained to her that when I was young, I didn’t understand how amazing my legs were, no one told me how lucky I was to have them, how cool it was that they carried me wherever I wanted to go. I didn’t understand that then, but I sure as hell do now!
Do I always love what I see in the mirror? No. Do I have to? Absolutely not! I can love and accept my body without needing to see perfection reflected back.
If you would like to read more about how I became a better mirror model for my children, you can read my book ‘Mirror Mirror On My Wall’ here.
To read my blog on Coming Out, follow this link.