My Shitty Self-Image Is Hurting My Kids

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
esolla / iStock

I hate my body. There, I said it. But it’s not the first time, and it will probably not be the last. I make some kind of self-deprecating remark about my body on a daily basis. I have carried and birthed four beautiful children each more than 8 pounds — one whopper came in at 10 pounds, 5 ounces. My body has been poked, prodded, and stretched completely apart, and it shows. So many women embrace their stretch marks, C-section scars, and leftover flab as badges of courage and honor. I just can’t seem to get there.

Please understand, I was not walking around at supermodel stature before I had children. I was never toned or muscular. No one ever stared at me in awe of my gorgeous physique. But when I sat down, I didn’t feel like a can of Pillsbury biscuits just fell out on my lap either.

My body is just different now, a little bit bigger and a lot softer. Dressing this body has become a challenge. So many fashionable flowing tops that look amazing with leggings turn into a perpetual game of “hmm, is she or isn’t she?” As a mother of four, most people tend to think, I probably am. What’s one more? I would put on three pairs of Spanx if it meant that I would not be consciously aware of my stomach all the damn time. I spend most days in athleisure wear so that I can pull my pants up to my breasts and smooth things out.

I know in my mind that this is crazy. I realize that there isn’t a mom in the world who is looking at my body and thinking, “Damn, she decided to have children and ruin herself. I bet she hates her stomach. I can’t even stand looking at her, she is repulsive.” Nope, they look at me and think, “Shit! She was crazy enough to have four kids. I better pray an extra rosary for her tonight.” But despite the fact that no one else cares, I cannot seem to stop.

I constantly look at pictures of myself and start with the negative comments. “Ugh, I look fat. I hate my stomach. God, I look disgusting, delete it!” It never occurred to me that my behavior was actually affecting anyone else, particularly not my kids. And then one afternoon while scrolling through my phone, my 4-year-old son looked up at me and beamed:

“Mom! I like this picture of us! You look so fat!”

“What did you say?” I asked, horrified.

“You look fat, Mom. That’s what you always say. You always say that you are fat. Is that bad?”

I was calling myself fat so often that he actually thought he was complimenting me. His little mind doesn’t understand that I am participating in a self-loathing behavior that is totally unhealthy and needs to stop.

My older sons, 9 and 7, they get it and they hate it. It makes them late for church and games and parties because I spend so much time in front of the mirror criticizing myself because I am unable to attain some made-up level of perfection. They listen to their father and I unnecessarily argue as he constantly tries to build me up, but I don’t believe him. They tell me all the time, “Mom, you’re not fat,” or “Mom, you look great,” or the dagger that went directly through my heart spoken by my eldest child: “Mom, you’re not fat. And you’re a great mom, who cares?”

I am teaching my sons a terrible lesson about women. I am not teaching them that women are confident and strong and that they have the power to do whatever they want. I am teaching them that if you have a fluffy body, you are not as beautiful, you are not as special, and you are not as important as women who are thinner. That thinking is a hell of a lot more disgusting than a little leftover skin and some stretch marks.

My sons have taught me they really don’t care how I look. I am their mom. They need me for hugs and kisses and help with their homework and to do their laundry and cook their meals and to love them. They have never even noticed that I have a stomach or arms or legs or anything else that I am self-conscious about. They see a woman who belongs only to them and with that, they are satisfied. That kind of unconditional love is humbling.

As moms, we have to be more willing to love ourselves and be less critical. Our kids are listening, all the time. When we think that they are just watching TV on the bed while we are getting ready in the bathroom, they are listening to everything. They need to hear us speaking positively about ourselves. It’s time to look in the mirror and confidently say, “I look great today.” Even if you don’t feel it.

And just as our mothers always told us, if you can’t say anything nice at all, just don’t say anything. Because the truth is, if you’re out of bed and moving, you’re good. If you found clothes in your closet that fit, that’s great. If you can make it out the door with all of your kids dressed, fed, and with teeth brushed, you’ve conquered the world. But if the only thing that you can say about yourself is “I look like shit,” you’re losing at life.