Lets Stop Teaching Our Daughters to Hate Themselves

Lowen Puckey
A Cornered Gurl
Published in
5 min readMay 6, 2019

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Olenka Kotyk. Unsplash.

I recently learned that a friend of the family has, at age 13, developed an eating disorder. The last time I saw her, not that long ago, she had been a child — confident in her beauty, oblivious to self-hate.

The same day a professional colleague, beautiful by any standard — womanly, vibrant, clever, strong — said, when complimented on her top, “oh, it’s so slimming; it hides a multitude of sins.”

I usually would have jumped right in to tell her she wasn’t fat (and truth be told, she looked a healthy weight) or to offer her some self-deprecating story of my own designed to make her feel better about herself, as women are want to do.

Welcome to the Self-Hate Club, ladies and girls.

This is where it begins.

But instead of saying these things to her, I froze. I didn’t want to say those things to her. I had decided that I wouldn’t participate in that kind of talk anymore. But I could not immediately think of a single word to utter in place of what I have been so long programmed to say.

It was not until later that evening I realised that, in that context,

I can still tell someone they’re beautiful without making reference to their weight.

My colleague is beautiful with or without that particular top, with or without her curves.

It is easy to see the beauty in others and most of us are careful with what we say to our daughters but we do not take care with what we say to ourselves. And our daughters hear and see this and then emulate it.

We are, unintentionally, teaching our daughters to hate themselves.

While we are aware of social media, advertising and glam rags idealising the thin, no amount of reassuring our young women and girls is going to counteract the fact that they hear women like us, and us, deriding our appearance and often ourselves (replace the word fat with stupid).
Social media plays its part and it’s a bigger part than ever before, but the buck has to stop with us — we are our young women and girls’ role models in the flesh and blood — the older sisters, mothers, aunties, cousins, and grandmothers.

We are teaching our young women and girls to hate themselves.

Let’s make a wake-up call — what would happen to our bodies if they fit the scale of the ideal? Here are some facts not many adult women are aware of and I would estimate next to no young women know:

When you are below your body mass index (BMI — a measurement for healthy weight used by medical practitioners) you are considered underweight, or to be blunt, malnourished. When you are malnourished:

  • You have mood swings
  • You are more prone to crying
  • You have a higher risk of developing long term depression
  • You don’t have the energy to do the things you love doing
  • You may experience stunted growth
  • You may not have periods
  • You may not develop breasts or your breasts may disappear
  • You may develop sagging skin and stretch marks from extreme weight loss
  • You may not be able to have children
  • If you do get pregnant you have a higher chance of a premature birth
  • You are more likely to have early onset menopause
  • You may age prematurely, and
  • experience hair loss and
  • dental problems
  • Your life expectancy shortens
  • Your internal organs start to shut down
  • You may do permanent damage to vital parts of your body, such as your heart and bones (osteoporosis).
  • if taken to the extreme, you will die of malnutrition

As you can see, a person with below normal BMI is hardly likely to be either happy or fulfilled. Give away any idea of achieving any of your life’s dreams.

You are now less than barely surviving, you are in fact killing yourself slowly.

Is this what we want for our daughters?

But negative warnings only go so far.

What needs to happen is the teaching of positive talk, self-love instead of self-hate, and it starts at home, with us.

I have been hating myself since I was very small, because I was taught to compare myself to an unrealistic ideal most people fall short of, so I have almost five decades of training to undo and it is hard.

But what is harder is to see people I love hate themselves enough to hurt themselves and to know that my modeled behaviour had a role to play in that.

We are all beautiful.

That is not an empty platitude. No matter what size or age or whatever else is used to measure beauty, we are all beautiful.

We need to redefine what beauty means.

If beauty means slow death, then

let’s take the word ‘beauty’ back from self-haters, social media, advertising, and magazines and make it mean what it should mean.

We are all beautiful.

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL

and I am beautiful, too.

Omar Lopez. Unsplash.

Further reading:

https://www.womenshealth.gov/healthy-weight/underweight

Stajkovic, S., Aitken, E.M., Holroyd-Leduc, J. (2011). Unintentional weight loss in older adults. CMAJ; 183(4): 443–449.

Cimino, S., Cerniglia, L., Almenara, C.A., Jezek, S., Erriu, M., Tambelli, R. (2016). Developmental trajectories of body mass index and emotional-behavioral functioning of underweight children: A longitudinal study.Scientific Reports; 6: 20211.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). (2018). Prevalence of Underweight Among Adults Aged 20 and Over: United States, 1960–1962 Through 2015–2016. Hyattsville, MD.

Mukherjee, S. (2013). Comparing Adult Males and Females in the United States to Examine the Association between Body Mass Index and Frequent Mental Distress: An Analysis of Data from BRFSS 2011. Psychiatry Journal; 2013: 230928. doi:10.1155/2013/230928.

de Wit, L.M., van Straten, A., van Herten, M., Penninx, B.W., Cuijpers, P. (2009). Depression and body mass index, a u-shaped association. BMC Public Health; 9:14. doi: 10.1186/1471–2458–9–14.

Flegal, K.M., Graubard, B., Williamson, D., Gail, M.H. (2005). Excess Deaths Associated With Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity(link is external). JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association; 293(15): 1861–1867.

Szegda, K.L., Whitcomb, B.W., Purdue-Smithe, A.C., et al. (2017). Adult adiposity and risk of early menopause(link is external). Human Reproduction.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PDF, 14.2 MB).

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321612.php

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Lowen Puckey
A Cornered Gurl

Advocate for mental health, chronic illness and disability. Sometime writer of funnies & fiction. Perpetual drinker of tea.