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YOU’D BE SO PRETTY IF…Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies–Even When We Don’t Love Our Own, Dara Chadwick
A Conversation with Dara Chadwick,
Author of YOU’D BE SO PRETTY IF…
Carrie: Why did you decide to write YOU’D BE SO PRETTY IF…?
Dara: I learned so much about my body—and about myself—during my year as Shape’s Weight-Loss Diary columnist. But watching the effect that the experience had on my daughter, just at the time when she was beginning to think about her own body, really opened my eyes to the effect that my words and behavior have on her. That led to many conversations between us about why I was doing the column, what I thought about my body and what I hoped to get out of the experience. I wanted her to know that it was all about being healthy for me (my own mom died young) and about becoming the best me I could be. When I talked to some of my friends about their mothers’ influence and their body feelings, I realized this was a universal topic among women and I wanted to really explore it.
Carrie: What will readers take away from YOU’D BE SO PRETTY IF…?
Dara: I want readers to close this book and say, “Wow. I don’t need to be a supermodel or be perfect to help my daughter feel good about her body.” The practical advice and collective wisdom in this book—my story, and the stories of the women and girls I interviewed—will give readers the tools and encouragement they need to change the body image legacy that they pass on to their daughters.
Carrie: There are a lot of body image books out there. How is YOU’D BE SO PRETTY IF…different?
Dara: It’s different because it touches on all facets of a mother’s influence on her daughter’s feelings about her body. The mother/daughter relationship is so complex and the bond is so strong, girls can’t help but absorb everything we say and do and, to some degree, feel—whether it’s good or bad. And while the book will touch on examples of moms who tell their daughters that they’re getting fat or try to rigidly control them, it also tackles more subtle scenarios, such as how moms talk about themselves in front of their girls and how that talk affects their daughters.
Carrie: What do you mean by that?
Dara: For example, if the family decides to go out for ice cream and mom just orders a Diet Coke every time, what does that say to her daughter? Or when the family heads to the beach or pool for a day of swimming and mom refuses to remove her cover-up? My mom was a huge fan of self-deprecating jokes; one of her favorites was, “The first rich blind man through the door is mine.” She also liked to choose clothes that she said, “hid a multitude of sins.” Those words and behaviors aren’t lost on girls. You’re planting a seed with each comment and when her body starts to look like yours, guess what? She remembers, and applies that criticism to herself. The good news, though, is that the stories shared by the women and girls in this book will help readers see that subtle changes can have big effects.
Carrie: As a mom, how can I encourage my daughter to eat healthy without contributing to the development of an eating disorder?
Dara: As Shape’s Weight-Loss Diary columnist, I spent a year working with a dietitian who taught me that healthy eating doesn’t mean deprivation. My daughter watched me lose 26 pounds, but she also saw me eat ice cream and other foods that I love. She saw me eat in restaurants and cook healthy meals at home. Being healthy isn’t about extremes or rigidity, and there’s a place for the foods you love. It’s all about balance.
Carrie: Girls today want to look like their favorite celebrities, many of whom are stick thin. What can moms do to counteract that?
Dara: These are tough waters for moms, and I’ll be the first to admit that. At 13, it’s all about fitting in with your peers and figuring out who you are. These are tough concepts for an adolescent to grasp, but don’t underestimate your own influence. To her, you’re a role model, just like the celebrity she adores. If you take care of yourself and focus on being the best you you can be, you’re teaching your daughter to make the most of who she is—to be the best her she can be. I try to remember that, too, when I’m tempted to brush off a compliment. If my daughter tells me I look pretty, I’ve learned to say, “thanks,” instead of brushing it off. When I accept her compliment without making a self-deprecating comment (this old thing? My hair’s a mess, my arms are too big, etc.), I’m showing her that I can feel good about myself the way I am — and she can, too.
Carrie: What about media images? How can moms contend with the media’s portrayal of women and our daughters’ aspirations to look like those women?
Dara: I know it seems overwhelming sometimes, but you can help your daughter learn to look at media critically. I wish every girl could experience what my daughter experienced watching me go through the Shape program. She’s been to multiple professional photo shoots and she’s seen how much make-up, time, lighting, styling and posing go into creating an image of “perfection.” We also poke around on Web sites like the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty site, which features things like videos that show the transformation of a natural-looking model into a cover model. When you’re talking with adolescent girls about celebrity and media images, it’s so important to help them understand that what they see on the page isn’t real. I’ve got a friend who says she never compares herself to celebrities—they’ve got nannies, housekeepers, stylists, trainers, assistants, etc. It’s just not a fair comparison, she says. I think that’s a great attitude.
Carrie: What’s one thing you learned while writing YOU’D BE SO PRETTY IF…that really surprised you?