By Kimberly Hershenson
I look over at my daughter running naked around the apartment. She touches her tummy and giggles then runs to the mirror and exclaims “pretty!” She is 2, carefree, and has no issues with her body. I can look at my daughter and see her as perfect just the way she is with her pinchable cheeks and thighs. If someone told an adult they had pinchable cheeks or thighs, he or she would likely be offended. My hope is that my daughter’s mindset stays body positive. Who says healthy body image has to change? Given the society we live in which is filled with Photoshop, plastic surgery, and daily selfies, I have my concerns not only for my daughter, but for all youth.
Media certainly plays a role in manipulating the minds of young men and women. I am thankful I grew up in an age before social media and airbrushing, but sadly, I was still affected with negative body image. My mother wasn’t the healthiest of role models and did not display unconditional love for her body. I heard daily complaints about “too much flesh” and “if only I were thinner.” Our fridge even had a magnet stating “you can never be too rich or too thin.” Part of me thought her behavior was normal since this was how I grew up, but there was a small part of me that thought things should be different. I just didn’t know how.
I was not only affected by my mom’s mentality about body shape and weight. Ballet was a huge part of my childhood and I started dancing professionally at age 11. While I was never told I was fat, I was surrounded by a culture that exalted thinness. We were encouraged to eat sugar-free fat free frozen yogurt for lunch. A scale was placed at the center of the room every Friday and our weight was called out amongst our peers. All the girls prayed they would fit into the smallest tutu for our upcoming performance. It was ingrained in my head that the smaller you are, the easier it would be for a man to lift you during a pas de deux. Couple all this with being surrounded by mirrors while wearing a leotard, it is not surprising that most dancers struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their career. Personally, I went to extremes to maintain the “ideal ballerina body” and this mindset stuck with me for years even after I stopped dancing.
It was not until I became pregnant with my daughter that I truly understood the power and beauty of the human body. Carrying a baby, I realized that my body is meant to be loved and taken care of. Hours at the gym or restricting were completely off limits when I had another life to care for. I began appreciating my growing body because I was doing something bigger than I thought possible.
Occasionally, I did get sidetracked. Comments from friends and strangers ranging from "you're so small are you eating?" to "are you sure you’re not having twins?" filled my days. My mind did sometimes transgress and I wondered if I were "doing pregnancy correctly." I realized that a pregnant women’s body is often a time of no boundaries for family, friends, and even strangers, but I had to set the boundaries. When asked how much weight I had gained I'd respond "I'm not comfortable answering that, but the baby is doing great." When a hand went in to touch my belly I'd guard my stomach and say "please don't touch without asking." The bottom line is that most people mean well and pregnancy just makes people curious. However, that doesn't mean I can't express my feelings.
After I had my daughter, I thought I'd be tempted to lose all the baby weight as fast as possible. I admittedly read tabloids, watch E!, and love Access Hollywood. I'm not immune to magazines stating this supermodel lost her baby weight in two weeks or this celebrity only gained X amount of pounds during her pregnancy. I was also asked quite often how I planned to lose the baby weight. Honestly, I had no clue. I knew restricting my diet was not an option for me. I planned on nursing and having more children so that meant I needed to stay as healthy as possible. What ended up happening for me was something I could not have imagined years ago when I was struggling with body image issues. I found acceptance and self-love with the help of my daughter. My love for her is so huge that any issues with my body fell by the wayside. I didn’t have the impulse to head to the gym every day because I wanted to be with her. Instead, I’d take her for occasional walks in the park. I didn’t analyze my changed body because I was so proud of it for creating another life. I also kept thinking about what kind of mother I wanted to be…happy, joyous and free. Now, when I tell my daughter she’s perfect just the way she is I believe it for myself too.
About the Author:
Kimberly Hershenson began her career as a professional ballerina. She is a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She received her Juris Doctorate from Pace Law School and her Master of Laws in Intellectual Property from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Kimberly decided to make a career change in 2015 and is a summa cum laude graduate from Columbia University's School of Social Work. She is currently an eating disorder and addiction therapist at a private practice. Her greatest pride is being a wife to her amazing husband, Evan, and a mother to her daughter, Atara and son, Ferris.