Author Susan Bodiker, author of Fat Girl: How to Let Go of Your Weight and Get on With Your Life, at age 15. (Photo: Susan Bodiker)
Susan Bodiker, author of the recent book Fat Girl: How to Let Go of Your Weight and Get on With Your Life, wants to help women and girls who feel unworthy — just like she did as a child. “My mother was very controlling,” Bodiker tells Yahoo Parenting. Though her mom cooked elaborate meals for guests, Bodiker — an only child — was restricted to eating apple slices at the table while her mother watched every bite carefully. “I was told ‘You’re not hungry,’ or ‘You’ll get fat,’” Bodiker, a mother of one son, recalls. “She meant well — she wanted to make the world perfect for me. But therefore, I had to be perfect.”
Growing up, Bodiker’s weight fluctuated and she felt as though she was at war with food. At 22, she left home and got married, and slowly started to rebuild her self-esteem. “I had been a very unhappy and uncertain little girl,” she says. “But I started to listen to my body, to learn when I was hungry and when I was full.” Eventually she became a successful advertising executive in the Washington DC area, where she currently lives, and founded One Girl Wellness to help girls and women who struggle with body image.
Susan Bodiker today. (Photo: Red Turtle Photography)
Although her mother passed away before they ever tackled their issues, Bodiker’s book — dedicated in part to her mom — is one aspect of her forgiveness process. Part memoir, part self-help, the book addresses the role that moms play in shaping their daughters’ body image. “My mother always felt fat, and she didn’t want me to go through that pain,” she says. “But it’s taking me a lifetime to get over the fat shaming.” Here, Bodiker shares how moms who struggled with eating issues can raise confident daughters.
Know your own triggers: Explore your past and be aware of your own pain, especially if you had issues with your own mother — you can create a different dynamic in your home. “Notice when you’re reacting on impulse and snapping at your child,” says Bodiker. If you see her eating a candy bar and flash back to your mother’s criticism, for example, take a breath before you interact and respond mindfully with a calm tone.
Acknowledge your influence: “Women are hard on themselves, and that’s partly because of [the effects of] airbrushing and the fashion industry,” says Bodiker. “But we start to define and judge who we are by what our parents tell us. I could’ve had a houseful of Barbies and it wouldn’t have done the damage that my mother did by not loving me unless I met her conditions.”
Focus on inner qualities, not outer appearance: “Referring to someone’s weight or their looks tells your child that [physicality] is how people should be judged,” says Bodiker. Instead of describing people as “pretty” or “out of shape” or “short,” note their talents.
Speak well of food: “Instead of saying, ‘Don’t eat that—you’ll gain weight,’ talk about the ways food is helpful,” says Bodiker. “You might say, ‘That candy won’t give you the energy you need to run — let’s have a banana so you’ll feel strong to play this afternoon.’” This upbeat approach empowers your child to rethink the role of food and make healthier choices.
Make meals fun: “My mother put Martha Stewart and Julia Child to shame with her elaborate cooking,” says Bodiker. “But her monitoring of my eating took all the joy and sociability off the table for me.” Bodiker recommends cooking with your child as a bonding activity, and then enjoying what you’ve made together. “Meals should be a celebration, not a battle,” she says. “Talk about fun topics — friends, movies, books — at the table, and enjoy the food.”
Treat yourself in moderation: “If you constantly deny yourself food or pleasure, your child will see that,” says Bodiker. “She’ll imagine that if you never deserve to indulge, then she doesn’t either.” Find a healthy balance and enjoy an occasional treat.
Ask questions: “If your child comes to you and asks if she’s fat, don’t say yes or no — find out why she’s asking,” says Bodiker. “Did someone tell her that? Is she going through puberty and unsure of where her body is taking her? Create a loving relationship through meeting her questions with curiosity, not judgment, so that she confides in you without fear.”