We interviewed Dara Chadwick about her new book — title above — because, simply, we were wowed. It’s a great read not only for moms, but for any woman who would benefit from talking to herself more positively about her body, her self. Just imagine you’re your own daughter.
What inspired you to write You’d Be So Pretty If….?
I was inspired to write You’d Be So Pretty If…after I wrote a column during my year as Shape magazine’s Weight-Loss Diarist. In it, I wrote about how my mom had felt about her body and how that affected me – and how my feelings about my body were affecting my daughter, who was 11 at the time.
What do you see as its basic message?
The book’s message is that the way moms treat – and talk about – their own bodies has a direct effect on how girls feel about their bodies, both now and in the future. It doesn’t blame moms; instead, it asks moms to recognize that they’re setting a body image example for their daughters and it offers useful advice for how to be a healthy example.
How can moms encourage their daughters to be the best version of themselves when there are so many messages telling them how they should look? Besides role modeling, how can we give them a realistic picture of what health looks like?
Role modeling healthy self-acceptance is key, but you’re right – there are lots of influences out there other than our own. It’s so important to talk with our girls about what they’re seeing in the media and what they’re hearing from friends and classmates. In the book, I offer tips for teaching girls to look at and think critically about media images, as well as tips for dealing with peers and boys. Above all, though, the book is full of ideas for modeling healthy behavior toward our own bodies – what and how we eat, our exercise habits, how we talk about ourselves and how to make peace with our own body image legacy.
What most surprised you in your interviews with mothers and daughters?
I can’t say I was surprised by this, but I was in awe of the deep love expressed — by both mothers and daughters — for each other. The moms I talked to clearly love their girls and want them to grow up feeling good about who they are. At the same time, most daughters adore their moms and think they’re beautiful, just as they are. Now imagine how those girls feel when they hear us put ourselves down.
What can moms do to not feel too worried or guilty that anything they do or say might negatively affect their daughter’s self image?
Strive for healthy acceptance of yourself and of your daughter at all times. Do the best you can to take good care of your body with healthy choices about food and exercise (and occasional treats, of course!) and make the effort to let your daughter hear you say something nice about yourself (for example, “I like my hair” or “I love the way this skirt fits.”) every day. And remember that it’s OK to say to your daughter, “I’m sorry I acted like that (or said those things about myself).”
How much should you talk about body image with your kids? Should you let them come to you, or bring up the topic regularly?
I think if you’re actively working on modeling acceptance of your own body and good choices, you don’t need to bring up the topic of body image – and definitely avoid conversations about dieting, the scale, cutting calories, etc. Make it about health. But if she comes to you and wants to talk, I’d absolutely go with it. Let her know she can come to you and talk about this stuff whenever she needs to.
Do you have any tips for mothers and daughters shopping together? (At least one person on our staff says that as a teenager when she went shopping with her mom they fought horribly.)
Tricky, isn’t it? With young teens, it’s so important to remember how much they want to be just like their friends. You may not think a particular outfit is a good fit on her or the best style for her body, but as long as it’s not inappropriate or against your family’s values, let her wear the styles her friends are wearing. I’ve noticed that my daughter will often say, “What do you think, Mom?” when she’s trying on an outfit and if I respond with, “Hmm. What do YOU think?” she’ll tell me. If she loves something and it’s simply not my preference, I say, “Then you
should get it.” If she doesn’t like it, I’ll say something like, “Well, it’s OK.” I never criticize or point out that an outfit is unflattering to a particular part of her body…and I try to never point out particular styles as ones that would help “camouflage” certain parts. If I want to guide her to a particular style, I just say, “I think that would look great on you.” And sometimes, she tries it and agrees!
Do you think the messages in this book can be helpful to women who have sons? If so, how?
I do think the messages in this book can be helpful to women who have sons (and to fathers of daughters, too). During the year I was actively trying to lose weight for the Shape column, my son was watching, too, and would often say things like, “How many calories does this have, mom?” He also once asked me if he was a “good weight.” Boys are absolutely paying attention to our eating and exercise example, and to how we talk about our bodies. They feel their own body image pressures and although they may not be the same as those that girls feel, they’re pressures nonetheless.
Do you see this book being useful to women who don’t have daughters (or sons)? If so, how?
I’ve heard from a few women who’ve read the book who don’t have children. One in particular said to me, “I understand myself and why I feel the way I do about my body so much better now.” If you struggle with body image, reflecting on the legacy that your mom passed on can be a really helpful way to begin to make peace with your body. Again, this is so not a book that blames moms; mothering is a tough job and we all do the best we can. Instead, the book simply asks moms to be conscious of the body image example they’re setting. It’s an example that lasts a lifetime.
What difference has writing this book made in your life and that of your daughter’s?
I’ve learned so much about myself – and my daughter – through writing this book. She was very much a part of the process; we talked about what would be included and what wouldn’t, and she read the book long before it was published. I’ve learned that my example (in all things, not only in how I treat my body) has a huge impact on both of my children and I try to live every day with that in mind. I’m not perfect and I never will be, but I try to be conscious of my choices. And even though my own mother passed away years ago, I feel like I understand her (and miss her!) more and more as I parent my own children.
Anything else you’d like to our readers to know?
I just want readers to remember that we don’t have to be perfect – whether it’s an image we’ve taken from the media or simply an ideal we hold in our own heads – to be happy. Just be content with being the healthiest, best version of yourself…and teach your daughter to do the same.