Why I Worry About Teaching My Daughter Self-Acceptance

by Mandy Waysman
Originally Published: 
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When I was 7 or 8 years old, I wrote my mom a note that said something like this:


I am sorry that I am fat. I hate myself. I know that you probably don’t love me. I should run away. I wish you didn’t have to have such a fat daughter.


I can’t even think of the words of that letter without wanting to hug my little self without feeling that shame and disgust with myself all over again. I look at my daughters, and to think of them ever having those feeling so young, it breaks my heart.

I remember exactly what spurred the letter. I had been at a neighbor’s house, and they were doing that thing where you measure your wrist by wrapping your other hand around your wrist to see if your fingers meet. My fingers didn’t meet. The other girls’ fingers did. Actually, one looked like she could have wrapped her fingers around twice. At the time, I was convinced it was me who was totally wrong in all ways.

By this time, I had done the weigh-ins in gym class and was aware that I was higher in weight than the girls that I aspired to look like. I mean, yeah, they have you go around the corner to weigh in so no one can see and the weighers don’t tell people, but right when you come out, the girls in line ask you your weight. Oddly, sometimes girls I had barely talked to prior would come around during these times to ask my weight. I know now it was a tool to make themselves feel better. Granted I didn’t have to tell them, but refusing kind of did give the answer in a way. I was sad, and those were the days I knew that I was less than those other girls.

My mother talked to me and understood how I was feeling. She told me I was beautiful. I knew she was my mom and would say that no matter what. I went on with life, and I went on with my insecurities until, well, I wish I had an end date for you.

I have continued to find ways to lose weight. Healthy or unhealthy, I’ve tried them all. I’ve taken supplements, cut out whole food groups, and I’ve simply not eaten.

I’ve struggled between the extremes of wearing sweats and oversized clothes to “hide” and getting nice clothes to accentuate the positive even if I was not the size I wanted to be. I have slimmed down for my wedding. I have gained weight and stretch marks through pregnancy. I have had surgery to become healthy. I have joined gyms, I have tried to run, and I have expanded my diet to include veggies. I am at a neutral point now. I don’t hate myself. I strive to accept what I am and, on a good day, love it. Most of this has come with having daughters and realizing the necessity to mirror for them healthy ways to feel about oneself—even if sometimes I have to fake it.

My eldest daughter is almost 6, and she is gorgeous. I mean, so beautiful. Yes, I would say that about any human whom I created and birthed, but what you should know is that it’s the truth.

The other day we were getting her and her little sister ready for school. There were a couple outfit changes, and then I heard my 5-year-old daughter say that her little sister was prettier than her. Sometimes if one ends up with more sparkle or more bows, I will hear this complaint.

I don’t like this kind of talk because it’s obviously not productive, and it’s not focused on things that matter. I assured them they were both beautiful, but I heard my 5-year-old look down at her stomach and say, “I have a big belly, though.”

I dived back 25 years in a matter of seconds, and it was all I could do to not hold her and cry. I wish I could have paused time like Zack Morris and gathered some wisdom from my past—some magic words that would have helped me. However, I had to act fast. I told her that she was stunning and beautiful. She smiled, and we were on our way.

Now, can I confess something? I am scared. I am scared about dealing with this. I know what I felt, and I don’t want my daughter to feel that. I don’t want to focus on it because I know now how little that should matter. How do I make sure she knows what true beauty is and that it isn’t in a mirror or a pants size?

How can I pour into her head the ideas about self-acceptance and health that I am still struggling to instill in myself? I have to. I have to make her understand. I have to impart to her the wisdom that I am still reaching for. I need her to know that we can both love ourselves and be happy. I need her to know that I will lead her to finding that in herself so that nothing ever holds her back. Much like when she comes up in the middle of the night and asks me to hold her hand so she can sleep, I will hold her hand so she may awaken to being confident in what she is and what I am as well. I am this beautiful girl’s mother.

Every part of me went into making her—my body and soul. The parts of my past that hurt, the parts that make me scared, and the parts I don’t always like to look at, they made me and they affect her as I continue to raise and shape her into a confident happy woman.

I end this with a confession: Should it be something that comes up again, I don’t know how to make it OK for her. I confess that I am scared of her feelings being hurt. I confess that I don’t ever want to receive a note like the one I gave my mom. I vow to conquer these feelings on her behalf as well as mine.

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