May 2018

Mothers, Daughters and their Bodies

Author: Becca Edwards

Even though it is inevitable, most daughters will say they hope they never become like their mothers. I remember in my early teens watching my mother as she drove a car. Her hands at 10 and two o’clock, her left thumb rhythmically and inadvertently strummed the steering wheel. She caught me catching her in the act. “My mother used to stroke the steering wheel with her thumb and it drove me crazy,” my mother said. “I vowed I would never do it, and here I am, unconsciously, doing it. Sorry Becca, but we all become our mother.”

Years later, I was driving and, with the keen knowledge that my oldest daughter Ransom was scanning me, I looked to her, then to my own left thumb as it strummed the steering wheel, and then back at my daughter. “Sorry, Ransom,” I said. “We all become our mother.”
The push and pull of the mother-daughter dynamic, much like a pendulum, oscillates between extremes, sometimes swinging grand arcs and other times subtly flirting with the delicate balance of the middle with micro movements. As mothers, we typically prefer the latter over the former, hoping our daughters can be safely enough like us, or at least the evolved version of us, that we can impart our wisdom without impairing our relationship.

In those moments during motherhood when the stars align, we get it right, and an “aha moment” is born without much duress, we as mothers feel victorious. Such a magical, unicorn-ish moment occurred while watching Fuller House, the Netflix reboot of Full House. In the episode, Kimmy Gibbler sings to her child Ramona:

“Your body is a-changing.
Oh no, awkward.
You’re parts are rearranging.
Your armpits now have hair.
What’s going on down there?
It’s normal; don’t be scared.”

Ransom, her sisters, and I belly laughed so hard, our popcorn and inhibitions spilled from the sofa onto the floor. That night, when I tucked Ransom into bed, I seized my moment and asked her, “So, what do you think about your parts rearranging?”

“I’m cool with it, Mom. Really, I am,” she responded.

But a month later, she wasn’t. As we drove to a pool party, the scene went something like:
Me: Ransom, do you have a bathing suit to change into?
Ransom: Mom, I’m not going to wear a bathing suit.
Me: I know it’s February, and no one wants to wear a bathing suit in February, but it’s a heated pool.
Ransom: I don’t, I don’t, well you know.
Me: I don’t know. Why don’t you want to wear a bathing suit?
[Silence]
Me: Are you embarrassed about your body?
Ransom: Mom, I know you think I’m beautiful, but kids my age might not. They say things.

As rage toward any person who had ever made my child feel insecure went aflame and engulfed me like a forest fire, I did my very best to keep calm. I rubbed her thigh. It was the same thigh I had rubbed when she was sad as an infant and, in my mind, it was just as rubbery smooth and precious as it had been then. I inhaled the fact that she was now almost 11. And, as I exhaled, I searched for the sentiment that would bring us back to the brink of innocence when Ransom was coming of age but not coming into the negative emotions associated with maturing.

Throughout my life, I too had spent years afraid to wear a bathing suit. At times, I was too underdeveloped and didn’t fill out my J. Crew suit like all the other girls in my high school class. Other times, I was too voluptuous and spilled out of my Lily Pulitzer suit like all the other first-time moms. I spent so many years worried about how I looked in a bathing suit that I forgot what it felt like to actually wear a bathing suit. And now, at nearly 40 years of age, I will tell you it feels damn good, with 50 SPF lathered on, to just rock a Roxy or Target impulse-buy suit and soak in the sun, sea, and South Carolina air.

I told my mother about my conversation with Ransom, and, completing the trilogy, she too had wasted years ashamed of her body for one reason or another. “We all become our mother,” echoed hauntingly in my mind. In this instance, I actually wanted the pendulum to swing far, far away. Ransom does not need to wait nearly 30 years to put on her bathing suit and not be fearful of what the mirror or other people would tell her.

I called Dr. Debi Lynes, LPC, CEDS, IAEDP, ACA, IECA,CBT-I, and she described five important steps to raising body-positive children:

Step 1
“Be a good role model and practice what you preach,” Lynes said. “This also means setting a good example by being authentic and listening with the intent to hear and not respond.” According to Lynes, in the scene between Ransom and me, Ransom was not looking for a response. She was exploring. “If we can resist the impulse to fix things and just listen, most of the time the child will come to the right conclusion on their own.”

Step 2
Body positive beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and is relative to three components: biology, psychology, and environment. “The biological piece is huge, because biologically we are predisposed to our body and need to understand that. The psychological piece is choosing to accept our natural body, and the environmental piece is asking, ‘What can I control?’ and ‘How can I fuel my body?’

“Fuel consists of mind, muscle, mouth—or how I feel and think, how I move, and how I feed myself. Note, you feed yourself with thought, food, and movement.”

Step 3
“A good mantra for your child to understand self-acceptance is, ‘I am enough.’ Meaning, today, I’m smart enough, I’m pretty enough, and my body is enough.”

Step 4
“Teach that language and words are just that. They hold no innate power. Fat happens to be a healthy word. Bodies need fat to survive. Fat gives us warmth and insulates our organs. Help de-stigmatize certain words and specific meanings.”

Step 5
“Practice the 80-20 rule, which means 80 percent of the time, practice health and wellness with moderation and balance and 20 percent of the time relax and enjoy. This prevents deprivation.”

Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer, and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (bewellbecreative.com).

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