My mother is the strongest and most badass person I know. It’s empowering to be raised by a woman who demonstrates strength in all aspects of life. It’s not her Ph.D. or her professional success which make her, in my eyes, the strongest woman I know. It’s not that she and my father started their young lives together with nothing and raised three children while working full time and providing us with everything we could hope for. It’s not even that she beat cancer and cared for my father as he beat cancer. As an adult, I can now appreciate how much sadness and adversity my mother has faced in her 66 years: the loss of both of her parents, one when she was in her 20s; the loss of a sister; the fear she had to face for a child in the throes of an eating disorder. Most trying, though, has been her fight to help her oldest child — my sister — who suffers from debilitating mental illness. It’s a fight that is ever present in her life, day in and day out.
And yet she gets up every day and lives life with grace and fortitude, recognizing all that she has to be so grateful for. She does everything in her power to support a child that cannot help herself but doesn’t let it keep her from living her own life. She still finds joy in the small things — the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach, an afternoon with a lifelong friend; and she relishes in the big things — supporting me as I embark on a new career path and plan my wedding.
The strongest woman I know. And, yet, I have these vivid memories of being a girl and hearing her wish longingly for “legs like that woman’s.” I remember my dad telling me how my wise, successful, stunning mother (see above) used to comment that she wished they had machines that could stretch your body out. It’s something most (sadly, I don’t think thats an exaggeration) women probably think about more often than we’d like to admit, regardless of how successful or fortunate we are.
I tell you this story not because I think my mother did anything wrong or “caused” my eating disorder. My mother was and is incredibly supportive of me in all ways. I share this because as I get older and plan my future with my fiancé, the thought of how I teach my daughter to embrace her body is always on my mind. How can I guide her to love herself and be grateful for the incredible things her body is capable of, regardless of what size she wears, when it has been so hard for me to do the same for myself? How do I ingrain in her that she’s beautiful as she is while making her realize that she is so much more than what she looks like? So much more than her measurements.
I suppose it’s something I can’t answer, at least not yet. One thing I do know is that it begins with me. Children pick up on how we treat ourselves and they mimic us. So it’s up to me to walk my walk and not just talk my talk. It’s up to me to embrace my body for all she is capable of, whether I ran 5 miles or ate pizza on the couch that day.
I also know that we will talk about it often and honestly. I can’t control the so-called “ideal” images of women that will surround her everywhere she goes. But I can remind her that who we are — not the size of our skinny jeans — is what makes us beautiful. And it’s when we love ourselves and our bodies that our beauty shines through most brightly.
Follow the Sustainable Body Project on Facebook
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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