Thank You, “Stars — They’re Just Like Us!”

Growing up, I never had a strong desire to be a mother.

Once it happened, I knew it was exactly what I was meant to do.

Before my daughter was born, I was a glass half-empty kind of person. I saw what was missing for me, what others had that I wanted.

I had battled a terrible body image most of my life and still struggled with an eating disordered mindset as an adult. But now I had a daughter and I wanted her to grow up with strength and confidence and a sense of self that went far deeper than what she looks like. I knew I had to shift my relationship with food and body image if she had the slightest chance of growing up with what I didn’t have.

Children are discerning. They can often see very clearly what we believe they’re not capable of understanding. I knew I couldn’t fake it with her. She would eventually see right through me. I had to be what I wanted her to become, but I didn’t know how.

Until the day an epiphany hit me like a ton of bricks.

I had subscriptions to a couple of tabloid magazine. I would devour them as soon as they hit my mailbox. I knew the content was exceptionally shallow, but I justified them as my guilty pleasure. And then I had a moment of clarity that shifted everything for me.

My daughter was napping, so I pulled out the US Magazine that had just arrived. I was reading Stars — They’re Just Like Us!, a few pages of Papparazzi photos of stars doing everyday, normal things. There was a photo of a celebrity outside of Starbuck’s with a to-go cup. She was wearing sweats, a baseball cap, and no make-up. They harshly criticized her for “looking fat and dumpy” and “letting herself go.

I saw it for the first time how incredibly unkind it was. She was just getting a cup of coffee and was publicly shamed for her appearance. A more painful realization was that I did the exact same thing to myself. I was a terrible self-critic, just as merciless as US Magazine, or even more so. I held myself to unrealistic and unattainable standards and then harshly criticized myself for not being able to reach them. It was a real turning point for me.

I immediately cancelled my subscriptions. I didn’t want to be a person that harshly judged others, and more importantly, I knew I needed to stop judging myself if I had any chance of being an example for my daughter.

I had to somehow learn to silence that inner voice that told me I wasn’t thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, fit enough…

Since I was a pre-teen what I wanted more than anything was to be thinner and beautiful, and then I would finally be good enough. I was willing to do all kinds of crazy and unhealthy things to get there.

I have no idea why the light bulb went off for me in that moment. I had struggled for years, had endless hours of therapy, and read countless self-help books; and still I wasn’t able to shake a damaging mindset that led to unhealthy behaviors.

I suppose all of the factors aligned just right for me to see the irony in my situation. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, and more than anything I didn’t want to be a phony. I wanted to be true example for my daughter.

On that afternoon, in my “Aha” moment, when I realized I needed to change my inner voice, did I never again look at myself and think I was fat? Did I give myself pep talks and tell myself how wonderful I was when I struggled with insecurity? Of course not! But, slowly I was able to catch myself when I was over scrutinizing and I started to soften my inner critic until a new pattern started forming.

I was lucky to have a life-changing revelation that day reading a tabloid magazine. I saw the writing on the wall for my daughter. I needed to change my voice and vision of myself, so that I could be the example that she needed me to be. And that was all the incentive I needed.

Allison O’Brien, born and raised in Kingston, Rhode Island, now lives in Lafayette, Colorado with her two children, a 14 year-old daughter and a nine year-old son. She is a Consultant and Facilitator with Listening Impact, a communication-consulting firm based in Boulder, CO.  She is passionate about helping others to cultivate meaningful connection through the power of Listening.

Read more from Girls Leadership:

on Parenting     by Allison O’Brien     on Body Image

  1. Ellee

    Now that I think about it, I always thought i needed to lose weight, too. Then one
    day I saw a picture of myself at 14 and realized I was quite thin! Never consciously noticed the message from my mom to not eat too much, or “one treat a day” limit that we were taught (which included: if you go to the movie, you can’t have ice cream, too). luv you


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