The Oprah show recently focused on the body dysmorphia now common, even amongst little girls. The show featured two pre-schoolers and a teenage model, all of whom hated their appearance or took drastic measures to conform to a beauty ideal.
The first guest was a three-year-old little girl, a regular Victoria Secret catalogue reader, who throws tantrums when not allowed to wear make-up like her mom. According to her mother, the girl screams, “I hate you Mommy!” when she doesn’t feel pretty enough. Explanations for this? Her mother seems to spend quite a bit of time prepping herself when going out, applying make-up and performing multiple mirror-checks. Mother says, “I don’t recall ever being told ‘You’re beautiful,’ so I’m constantly telling her how beautiful she is.” So, why doesn’t her daughter listen to her? It seems the adage, “Do as I say, not as I do” is most illustrative here.
The second guest, a skinny four-year-old is intensely afraid she’ll become fat. How might such fear arise? Her mother insists that her daughter’s pre-school classmates called her “fat,” stating, “I honestly believe that she’s learning it from just being around other girls.” You do? Because what about, as the show later reveals, your history of anorexia? Turns out mom struggled with anorexia for years, and even now limits all food intake to servings “smaller than a cup” and exercises daily, sometimes twice a day. It’s not surprising that her daughter is restricting her portions and leading her own makeshift aerobics class in the home, is it?
The third guest is a 19-year-old model and soccer-team captain. She reports that at age seven, she couldn’t go to school because her face was “too ugly,” and today, she tends to shatter mirrors and destroy pictures of herself. She, at times, turns her destructive impulses on herself, reporting suicidal ideation and a history of cutting. After hearing from this young woman, we meet her mother, whom her daughter often overhears as saying, “I’m so ugly!” Mom and daughter, from time to time, compete in the “Who’s fatter?” game.
In all three cases, we see daughters, despite well-intentioned mothers, who internalize their self-reproach. A daughter whose mother struggles with body acceptance will likely do the same, as her mother tacitly, but forcefully, conveys that thinner is better and condemns any shape that does not conform. It is my contention that for mothers, no matter how much love you give your daughter, or how much regard you show her, if you dislike your body, your daughter will do the same.