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My body struggles and how I’m doing it differently for my kids

We live in a world that praises thinness and external appearance so much more than who we are on the inside, so I know my story and struggles are not unique. I want to break down the stigma, bring awareness, and help anyone I can so that no one suffers alone. I know we can start to make changes that will help our kids grow up in a different world and break the cycle of diet culture within our own homes. 

My body struggles and how I’m doing it differently for my kids

By: Hayley Hubbard

I am so comfortable and happy to be talking about this topic because I’m proud of the growth I’ve made over the years, and I know that my story of battling an eating disorder and continuing to build my self-esteem can show other mothers, women, and men that they can get through it, too. We live in a world that praises thinness and external appearance so much more than who we are on the inside, so I know my story and struggles are not unique. I want to break down the stigma, bring awareness, and help anyone I can so that no one suffers alone. I know we can start to make changes that will help our kids grow up in a different world and break the cycle of diet culture within our own homes. 

MY JOURNEY 

Let me start with my past. When I was 14, I began to notice that I didn’t look the same as some of my friends around me. I was always on the chubbier side as a child, but I was always really active and didn’t seem to think about my weight until middle school. I remember that, one day, it just hit me that I didn’t have the same skinny legs as my friends and I just wasn’t as thin. I started to feel the pressure that if I was thinner I’d feel more beautiful and be more accepted. 

So, in the beginning, I started to feel immense guilt when I ate which also stemmed from the narratives I’d heard growing up. I’ve always loved food, but it was around that age that my relationship with it changed – something I loved so much turned into something that started to consume my mind more than it should have. I thought about what I ate and what I wanted to eat, but I also wanted to be skinny. The guilt that I couldn’t control what I was eating built up so much that I started to throw up my food. 

This turned into a cycle that I couldn’t break. It wasn’t until I was caught that I realized there were real health consequences with my eating disorder, and I started work to overcome it. I was able to work hard to heal my bulimia at that time, but what has surprised me the most is how much the negative self talk about my body has persisted. It really wasn’t until my mid 20’s and right before I met Tyler, that I started to learn how to love myself on the inside and out. And let me tell you, the negative thoughts are still there, but I am in a much better place than I was 17 years ago.

PRESSURE AS A MOM

I’ve struggled over the past few years, though not with an eating disorder, but with the pressure we feel as moms to feel good after pregnancies and fit back into our jeans. After back-to-back pregnancies, I didn’t feel like myself for so long. On one hand, I’ve been so proud of what my body’s been able to create, but on the other hand, I’ve had moments where I look in the mirror and can easily point to areas I don’t like. 

I feel more pressure after having kids to lose my baby weight and look like I did before having Olivia (my first). It doesn’t come from Tyler or my friends – it really comes from society, in general. The expectation is so ingrained in our culture that I innately feel as if I must fit back into those jeans. It’s a strange experience being a mom and going through pregnancy: one day, you’re praised for the baby you’re carrying and then once you deliver the baby, you hear comments like “you don’t look like you had a baby!” – which feels so great to hear, but it puts so much pressure on us to actually get to a place where we don’t look like we just had a baby. This isn’t right. 

I’ve unknowingly said comments like these before and have received them. For a period of time after having Atlas and being pregnant for what felt like 2 years, I didn’t feel like myself and didn’t love the way I looked. I felt myself criticizing myself more than praising myself, which never feels good. But then I took a step back and realized that I was falling into the same diet culture traps that I’m trying not to pass down to my children. I knew I needed to praise my body for the miracles it has created and start to do things that made me feel like me. So, I resisted the pressure to go on a restrictive diet, and slowly but surely, I have been listening to my body and giving it what it actually needs – some movement, some fresh food, sleep when I can, and some positive praise. As hard as it is, as women, we need to push back on the idea that we’re supposed to look like we did before babies, because we’re fundamentally different on the inside and out once we have children. And as a society, we need to start normalizing and praising this transformation. I am far from there personally, but I think that opening up the conversation and normalizing our journeys as moms is an important place to start. 

Since becoming a mom, I have felt this immense pressure to do it differently for all my kids, but especially for Liv – women get so much pressure from all angles about their appearance.  When I was a kid, it wasn’t common to hear people around me talking positively about their bodies or who they were on the inside. I can only really remember one person saying, “I love my body!” and “I’m so strong!” The comments I mostly remember were the negative ones like, “I need to lose some weight!” or “I need to quit having dessert!” or “I can’t have that, I’m on a diet!” which had a much bigger impact on my self-esteem than I ever realized. Now, I try to always compliment my kids on the internal qualities that make them so great because building self-esteem starts so young. I don’t blame anyone around me for what I experienced as a child, because I know everyone was just doing their best. And when we know better, we do better, which is why I’m going to do my best to love myself – stretch marks, stretchy skin, and all. I’m a believer that actions speak louder than words, so not only do I need to speak positively to myself, but I must model this thinking in my actions, especially in front of my kids. 

WHERE I AM TODAY

I’m in a much better place now and have a much more positive relationship with food and my body. I’m working daily to love myself for who I am and am trying my hardest to do it differently for my kids. I want them to truly love themselves, no matter their body size. And I want to help any parent who’s struggling with this themselves. When we know better, we do better, and I’m devoted to doing it better for my kids and the next generation. 

Want more? Check out our podcast episode, Ditching Diet Culture: How We can Do Better for Kids. In this episode, Hayley opens up more about her own personal struggle with an eating disorder as a teen and how she is working to break the cycle within her own family. Jess and Hayley break down what diet culture is, how it impacts our kids, and what we can all do to raise non-picky eaters who have a healthy relationship with food and with their own body.