Dear Alice,

I made you a promise the day we got the anatomy scan and found out that you were a little girl. You were probably on too much of a sugar high from my cupcake feast afterwards to notice, but I held my hand over the spot in my hip bone where you liked to curl up and said “I promise I’ll do better than they did. I promise I’ll tell you every day that you’re beautiful and strong and smart and that I love you. I promise that I won’t say negative things about my body in front of you. I promise that I won’t put morality on food for you, because you deserve better.”

I haven’t always succeeded.

I have told you every night – even when Daddy hears me and makes fun of me – that you’re sweet, and kind, and smart, and strong, and beautiful, and that mommy and daddy love you so, so, so, so much. It’s now so ingrained in the bedtime routine that you hug me back after I end your mantra and give you a big kiss. I’m thankful for that – I want all those things ingrained in your head. Because I have the opposite ingrained in mine.

I definitely haven’t put morality on food. You’re an adventurous eater who will try anything on the table, just as happy eating chocolate pudding as you are a pile of lychee fruit, or butter chicken, or green beans. I want you to enjoy all of it, be able to appreciate a fresh apple as much as a slice of chocolate cake. It’s taken a long, long time for mommy to be able to enjoy all those things equally without any guilt, and I’m not about to put you through that.

Unfortunately, you have heard me say mean things about my body. I’m not proud of that. I’m trying to get better at that in multiple ways, but mommy’s inner voice isn’t that nice. It calls me fat, gross, a slob, a blob, and other things I never want you to hear. That’s why when you do hear me say something bad, I try to make up for it later by saying good things my body can do – and I can tell by your giggles that sometimes the good things I say are pretty funny. Like the other day, when I poked at my bloated tummy and said, “I look like a busted can of biscuits, this is gross.” But then we started playing, and I said “but this body is good at being a tickle monster!” And tickled you until you turned pink and signed for more. Sometimes I have to be silly about what I like about my body, but silly’s better than nothing at all.

I promised you all of these because Mommy has an eating disorder. I’ve had one since I was in kindergarten – it may seem a long way off now, but when you get older you’ll realize just how young that is. I was raised with food being good or bad – and eating bad food meant I needed to be punished. I ended up eating as little as I possibly could, because that was the only way I knew how to be good. In actuality, it made me sick and caused permanent damage to my body and immune system – and all I learned was that thinness has nothing to do with how good a person is. It has to do with how you treat the people around you – and yourself. I’m still working on the “and yourself” part, but I’m trying. I don’t want you to have that battle. There are enough hard things in this world, and if I can prevent an eating disorder from being one of those things? Then I absolutely will.

You’re almost two now. You’re absorbing what people say, and you’re trying your best to talk. I want to make sure the words you hear from me are good ones so the words you speak are good, too. I want you to get messy in the kitchen with us cooking dinner *and* dessert. I want you to feel confident in your body and what all it can do. I don’t have that, but if I can give it to you, then I’ll have done something right.

With love,

Charlotte Smith is an esthetician licensed in Tennessee and Georgia. She’s married to a lumberjack version of Deadpool, is obsessed with huskies, is straight up in quarter-life crisis mode, and loves pretty much anything that could be considered creepy.

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