A Letter to my Daughter

18 Feb, 2019

A letter written by InsideOut contributor Alyssa Said to her one-year-old daughter about health, resilience and body image. Alyssa is a Queensland teacher and mother with a lived experience of an eating disorder.

To Arwyn my Wildflower,

How on earth could I, a new mother, still recovering from a past filled with eating disorders, poor body image and anxiety, raise a child in such a way as to not suffer the same fate?

Countless times over our first year together, I have reflected on my own upbringing and the way it has shaped me - my aspirations, my humour, my sensitivity, my desire for adventure, my anxiety, my beliefs and my body image.

I understand the profound influence I will have on you as you grow and develop (even when I think you aren’t paying attention) and I take that responsibility very seriously. I will do my part as your mother to assure you of your worth, to help you grow with a strong sense of yourself and a positive body image. It will take consistent actions, day after day and year after year.

As you grow, I will not diet, or talk about trying to lose weight, or refer to my body in a negative way. My incredible body made you, and I will show it respect and kindness.

When someone compliments me on how I look, I will thank them, knowing that their kind comment does not determine my value, nor does it if I hear a comment about my looks that is less than kind.

I will radiate self-love and acceptance, knowing that it will support you in your own journey of self-esteem.

I will tell you that you are beautiful, but no more often than I will tell you that you are strong, capable, interesting, intelligent, fun, kind, and that I am so proud of you. **I want to show you that your identity is not in your looks, and that your worth has no link to your weight, height, smile, shape of your face or size of your thighs. Your most beautiful attribute is your mind.

In our house, food is neither ‘bad’ nor ‘good’, and I won’t ever tell you not to eat something because it is ‘naughty’. I will teach you about how to best love your body with nourishing food, in the hope that when you come to make your own food choices, that you will want to eat what serves your body well - but to still delight in treats purely because you love the taste and texture. When we bake delicious desserts together, we will enjoy each mouth-watering bite with no guilt, self-loathing or talk of ‘working it off’ the next day.

If we are to reward you for something, it won’t be limited to food rewards, but also outings, small gifts, hugs, visits to friends and various other options. If we are to comfort you, then again, there are many ways to do that.

I will be adventurous with you, and show you how to move your body with love. I will exercise and be physically active because it is what my body, mind and soul wants - to have energy, to sleep well, and to function each day at my best. And sometimes I won't exercise, and that’s okay too. I won’t talk of feelings of guilt for being sedentary when I choose.

When social media attempts to bring doubt into your mind, I will support you. I will not follow anyone on my own social media that makes me feel bad about the way I look, or makes me want to lose weight. I will be mindful of my posts and status updates, and question what purpose it serves, and whether it comes from a place of peace or insecurity.

I will talk with you after movies and shows about the messages being sent to us by writers and directors.

I want to teach you resilience. I cannot control the words and actions of those who come into your life, but I can help shape your character to be a strong girl and woman. If you are ever judged or mocked for your looks or your weight, we will talk about it together and how it makes you feel.

Honey, the most common question I will ask you in your life will be ‘How are you feeling?’ because resilience relies on acknowledgement of emotions, so we will talk about our emotions at every opportunity.

I will be so careful with my words and my actions for you. I know I can’t control how you view yourself as you grow, but I promise you I will play my part in fostering a healthy self-image in you. I want you to have confidence in yourself, in every regard. I want you to be proud of who you are, and never be afraid to show it.

I spent a lot of years berating myself about my body and it would break my heart if that was your future too. I’m thankful for my struggles over the years, because they have made me wiser and more prepared to be a mother to you, little lady.

You are my most wonderful adventure sweet, Wildflower.

Love, Mum