Like Mom, Like Daughter
Author Maria Furlough wasn't always the confident woman she is today. In fact, if you would have known her when she was younger you would have seen an insecure girl struggling with disordered eating who eventually became addicted to diet pills. Counseling helped, and now Maria has a family of her own. Now Maria's goal is to be healthy, not skinny, while modeling a healthy body image to her daughter. Furlough encourages moms to began sowing seeds of healthy self-confidence in their daughters when they are very young and to prepare their girls for the changes that come with puberty.
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Maria Furlough encourages moms to began sowing seeds of healthy self-confidence in their daughters when they are very young and to prepare their girls for the changes that come with puberty. She shares her story of adolescent insecurity.
Like Mom, Like Daughter
Bob: As a teenager, Maria Furlough struggled with insecurity and body-image issues. As an adult, she thinks differently about those things now, but she admits she’s still tempted by those old insecurities.
Maria: It is hard for me when I’m sitting next to a woman eating a salad without salad dressing. That reminds me of all my past hurt and failure of growing up, thinking that that is the right way to be as a woman—to eat a salad with no salad dressing. I acknowledge that in myself, and that’s something I have to constantly be prayerful about.
I am aware of the way I am talking about food when I’m around other women. All of our convictions are different. What you’re convicted about your body and how you want to take care of it is different than mine, and that’s okay. I don’t believe it has to look the same for everybody.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 29th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. How do we think rightly about our own body-image issues, and how do we keep from trying to get other people to conform to our preferences? We’ll talk more about that today with Maria Furlough.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You asked an interesting question earlier this week, Dave; you were—
Dave: I ask a lot of interesting questions, Bob.
Ann: You do, honey. You’re the most interesting man I know. [Laughter]
Dave: Listen to my wife; that is beautiful.
Bob: You were asking, “Is it possible for a young woman to grow up in this culture and to avoid the trap of body image defining who she is?”
Dave: And even a young boy now.
Bob: That’s a good point.
Dave: It really is dominant, both men and women.
Maria: There is pressure.
Bob: Yes; we’re talking this week with Maria Furlough, who is joining us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Maria: Thank you.
Bob: Maria is an author; she’s a speaker; she’s a mom; she’s a wife. She’s got five kids at home. She has wrestled with body-image issues herself. She wrote a book to try to disciple her own thinking on this, right? This was basically how you’re going to deal with this in your own life, and then you just shared with other people.
Ann: —and how she became confident.
Bob: Yes; the book is called Confident Moms, Confident Daughters: Helping Your Daughter Live Free from Insecurity and Love How She Looks. When your daughter was born 12 years ago, was this on your mind, that body image was something you were going to have to shepherd with her?
Maria: Yes; I was struck, when I was holding her, at how much life insecurity had taken from me, and how the way that I looked at my body limited me from doing so many things; and I didn’t want that for her. That became my heart cry, when I held her, to be able to help her have a different outlook on the way that she looked at herself than I did.
Bob: Was an eating disorder ever a part of your past?
Maria: I had what was called “disordered eating.” I think that that has become a more defined thing now that is helpful in that you’re controlling what you’re eating in unhealthy ways; but it never becomes a full-fledged eating disorder, like anorexia.
Bob: You weren’t binging and purging.
Maria: I wasn’t binging and purging, or not eating for days. In seventh grade, I distinctly remember faking like I was eating my lunch, and then throwing it out, so that it looked like I was eating but really wasn’t. Or at dinner, I was skirting around my food and moving it around to make it look like I wasn’t eating; but that I wasn’t. I was eating enough to still maintain a healthy body.
Bob: This is radio, and we haven’t talked about this this week—listeners can’t see you.
Bob: You would have an average body image. I mean, if we took you to the doctor, they would say you’re where you ought to be for a woman your age.
Maria: Yes; yes.
Dave: Oh, Bob, that was a good way to say this. [Laughter]
Maria: He skirted around that one good.
Ann: I’m kind of listening, like, “How is he going—
Dave: “How is he going to say this?” [Laughter]
Maria: Congratulations! You did that well. [Laughter]
Ann: You look amazing and beautiful.
Bob: How—has that always been the case?
Maria: Yes, insecurity does not discriminate. Insecurity in who we are and how our body is shaped is not based on our size. That is why it is a “chasing after the wind” in the most specific sense. We will fight, and we will fight, and we will fight to love how we look or get to the place where we think our body is just right. We’ll never get there, because it doesn’t exist.
Bob: So it’s as much an issue for thin women as it is for women who are overweight?
Maria: Yes, yes; absolutely.
Dave: Does “confident mom”—or confident man or woman—does it mean that, when I look in the mirror, I would be satisfied?—that there wouldn’t be any sense of: “Oh, I wish I could get a little of that jiggle gone” “I wish that I could…”? Is that completely gone if I’m confident?
Maria: It’s contentment; it’s contentment, right where you are—and accepting the fact that if health is something in your life, like getting your body to a healthier, stronger place—if that’s a pursuit that you feel called to, then fine; but it’s not based on what you see in the mirror. It’s based on a pursuit to grow in an area of your life that you think needs growing and not based on what you see.
Bob: When somebody says to you/your husband or a girlfriend says, “You look—I mean, have you lost weight? You look amazing!”—oh, you’ve got this look!—I wish the listeners could see.
Dave: Boy, she responded!
Bob: You got this furious look on your face!
Maria: I know; I can say this, because I don’t have to see any of the people that I’m talking to. [Laughter] I really have a hard time with that statement.
In college, I had become addicted to dieting pills. I had become addicted to them because I was afraid to stop taking them—what would happen to me. I decided to pursue counseling to help battle that. He said something to me that I will never forget; he said: “You need to go home to your family, and you need to ask them not to say anything about your appearance, positive or negative; because the positive compliments about how you look only feed your insecurity—that you have to constantly be working at the way that you look—because if you stop, and people stop complimenting you, that means that you’ve failed or that means that you’ve gotten too heavy or something like that.”
Those statements—when people say or I hear them say—it’s hard for me. I have to navigate the waters to see if it’s an opportunity for me to be able to share some of the things that God has talked to me about. That is not a compliment that I will ever give, because I don’t know where that person’s heart is; and I don’t know what that compliment will do to them.
It’s not like I don’t notice or that you don’t acknowledge. Losing weight/gaining weight is a part of this side of heaven. I’m pretty sure we won’t get it down until we get our perfect bodies; right?
Maria: I’m not going to acknowledge that that’s not something that happens. But it’s not something I’m going to take time to compliment in a person, because I don’t know what that could do to them.
Dave: So how does a believer/how does a Christian view this aspect of their life? What should my motivation be to honor God to be healthy, in terms of physical?
Maria: I think that’s a great question. It’s one that I have to track tenderly because all of our convictions are different. What you, Dave, are convicted about your body and how you want to take care of it is different than mine; and that’s okay. I don’t believe that it has to look the same for everybody. The Bible talks about “If what by you eat causes somebody else to stumble…”; it is okay that my conviction about eating is different than yours, but I want to protect that in me and in you to not pass that around.
For me, I am very consciously aware that it is hard for me when I am sitting next to a woman eating a salad without salad dressing. That reminds me of all my past hurt and failure of growing up, thinking that that is the right way to be as a woman—to eat a salad with no salad dressing. I acknowledge that in myself, and that’s something I have to constantly be prayerful about.
I am aware of the way I am talking about food when I’m around other women. That doesn’t mean to say that I think her eating a salad with no salad dressing is bad for her or that that’s a wrong choice. I just acknowledge the fact that that is a choice that people are watching and noticing, and there could be some hurt or insecurity that that’s rises up.
Dave: I was thinking—it’s very interesting in the NFL/the National Football League—because in every locker room, at least in Detroit, it’s in the center of our locker room—is a scale. Every day, every player has to get weighed. Here’s why—it’s mission: we’re trying to win a Super Bowl.
Maria: Right; right.
Dave: It hit me, just as you were talking—tell me if I’m right or wrong—as a Christian, it could be our motivation—is, “I’m a soldier.”
Maria: That’s a great perspective. Our bodies are for using, right? We have work to do. God has given us these body parts to use them: that is our goal, and that is our desire, to work well with what God has given us—not because of what it looks like—but because of what it can do when it’s strong and healthy.
Bob: Let me go to the mom part of this and raising your daughter. When your daughter was three or four years old, what kinds of things were you doing, at that stage in her life, to try to sow seeds of confidence and try to make sure that body image wasn’t going to show up as a big deal, ten years in the future?
Maria: When my daughter was three and four, I was really practicing working on my confidence and making sure I was getting that down; and then constantly sharing with her about how amazingly God created her in all of the ways He created her: in her gifts, and in her talents, and in her personality, and having that be the baseline of our conversations; and then really just practicing my own confidence. I think those are really great practicing years.
Bob: When friends would say/your friends or parents would say, “Oh, sweetheart, you look so cute!” Did you just let that go?
Maria: Yes, “cute” is fine to me. “Skinny,” “larger,” “heavier”; “You look so small,”—these are the things I get Momma Bear about. I’m tender to only interject only when I feel like it could be a really damaging statement to her.
Thankfully, my family and extended family—because extended family for me, growing up, was a hard place; right?—because we can do the work in our nuclear family that sometimes doesn’t extend when we’re with extended family. I am particular about what is said about my girls. Because I was doing that, when she was three and four, we’ve gotten the practice down.
Bob: When she went into elementary school and now, all of a sudden, there’s comparison going on—now, all of a sudden, kids are dressing certain ways—did you start to see seeds of this developing in her own psyche? Did you start to speak to her on that?
Maria: One of the things that I think is important for us, as moms, is to be willing to own our own stories and to talk to our girls about our stories. I tried to use age-appropriate stories from my own life to engage with conversations with her.
When she’s six, remembering some of my experiences when I was six or seven—and then bringing up the topic of conversations—even say something along the lines of: “You know, honey, you might start hearing ways that people might talk about themselves that is not very confident. Maybe they don’t love certain things about themselves. You can be a light to them to tell them how awesome that they are, but just also know that that is not something that you have to take on and believe.”
Have open conversations; then, of course, as they get older, you get the eye roll; [Laughter] but they’re listening.
Ann: I love that you’re opening that door.
In your book, you have signs that your daughter is struggling or thinking about it. What are some of those signs?
Maria: It gets really easy in parenting, as our kids were so little; then, all of a sudden, they get to their tweens or their teens, and they’re just fine sitting in their room. You’re like, “Oh, it’s so peaceful. Oh, wait; I should probably go”—[Laughter]—“I should probably go talk to them.” [Laughter]
I try to make constant popping-ins, because isolation in your room is a really big deal. I used to do that; that’s the place where I struggled/that’s the place where I was secretly looking up things. Being present and acknowledging where my daughter is going on any technology that she has. Really focusing in on pictures of physically-fit people or constantly seeing people dressed in certain ways can be damaging to our security. So keeping tabs on—if those are the types of things our girls are focusing on—with that, an over-obsession on stars and what they’re wearing and doing.
Coming from a place, where your daughter has always had joy in eating, then all of a sudden, “No, I don’t want that,” or “No, I’ll pass on that.” That’s not necessarily— right?—these are not like, “Red alert!”; these are like, “Hmmm, should I draw in there as a mom?”—turning down the snack that they’ve always had/acknowledging any changes in what they’re eating and choices.
Also, the way that they talk about themselves and the way that they talk about other young women—just paying attention to these indicators. And being prayerful, always asking God to help me see the times, where I need to enter in as a mom, and talk to her about this topic.
Ann: What I’ve seen—I have a best friend, who has had total freedom in this area. The first time we went out to eat—she’s from the South—here I am with my salad, no dressing; and she’s eating chicken fried steak. I’m thinking, “What in the world?” She looks beautiful; she’s great. The next time we go out, she gets pasta with this creamy sauce, which for me; I’m like, “What is happening?”
She looks at me; she goes, “Why do you eat like that?” I said: “It’s so interesting you ask that, because I’m thinking the same thing! Do you not worry about what you eat?” She goes, “I’ve never worried about what I eat; do you?” I’m thinking: “Every woman in American worries about this! Are you kidding me?”
It was so fascinating for me to watch her raise her three daughters; because she became this magnet. She’s beautiful—and yet not focused on her external beauty—it was more internal. All of her daughters’ friends—they wanted to be with her—they wanted to know: “How does she have this freedom?” and “She doesn’t worry or talk about…She doesn’t have a scale.” I saw her daughters have that freedom too.
I don’t think we realize how much pressure our young girls are under and how, as we’re confident, it’s like this magnet that draws other women in. They’re asking, “Where do you find that confidence?”
Bob: Somebody’s listening to that and going: “She must have a hyper metabolism or something; because if I just think about chicken fried steak and pasta with cream sauce, I add five pounds just thinking about it.”
Ann: And she did; as she got older, and her body was changing, she did have a little bit more of a regulation on what she ate. But it never—here’s the difference—it didn’t consume her. She would get on me when I would say: “Oh, my pants are too tight. I need to lose some weight.” She’d really get on me.
I’d have this conversation—I said: “I want you to think about this, because it’s like a balance beam for me. If I’m consumed with food, and I’m dieting all the time—I’m consumed with that—but if I’m eating so much, my food becomes an idol. My food becomes: “I don’t have any control of it”; for me, it’s almost, ‘Is God in control?’ because one of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control.”
It’s almost being too overextended either way. I like to be in the middle, where I’m not thinking about it very much. Does that make sense?
Maria: That’s right; absolutely.
Ann: Is there a balance?
Maria: Yes; but I think what balance looks like for every person is different. Your balance might look different than my balance.
There needs to be joy in the food. Jesus had lots of joyful meals, right? He could’ve given us any way to nourish our bodies; He gave us food. Acknowledging that God gave us food as a gift and to figure out, in my life, how I can treat food like a gift and model it that way.
Bob: Your oldest is 12. Some would say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” [Laughter] when it comes to this battle of confidence.
Maria: That’s right; right.
Bob: I mean, most 11- and 12-year-olds are confident. It’s junior high/it’s middle school, where confidence starts to get shaken in a huge way.
You did youth ministry for years, so you know a little bit about this. But these weren’t your daughters going through this; this was other people’s daughters going through it. Are you ready for the next six years?
Maria: I am as ready as I can be. I’ve acknowledged the fact—she’s in sixth grade now, so she is in middle school—but I realize that this is not going to be perfect. There are going to be ups and downs. I needed to be as ready as I could be with tools in my tool belt so that, when she comes to me and she says, “I think I’m fat,” or when she comes to me and says, “I think So-and-so in my class is fat,” I’m ready for that, and I’m prayed up for that.
I acknowledge that we can get through this, and I have things that I can offer to her. I have tools in my tool belt, and I have protected our home as best that I possibly could be with these types of things to be ready for it.
Bob: When she’s 15, and you’re sitting down for family dinner, and you say, “Here; have some potatoes,” and she says, “No; no potatoes,”—and that’s all she says—do you say, “I better have a conversation with her,” or do you just let that go?
Maria: I think I don’t say anything at that moment. I think that that’s where me, and I think lots of other moms and women would agree, that’s when we’d put foot in mouth when we’d just immediately react. Definitely, putting some time between the conversation to have some prayer time; but yes, I do think I would have a conversation with her about that in an open-ended conversation.
Listen, in my particular circumstance with my daughter—she knows my things, right?—we’re very schooled on these types of conversations; we started having them. For me coming up to her and asking her: “You know, I’m just wondering why you chose not to have potatoes. Are you struggling in any way? What are your thoughts about potatoes?”—right?—these [questions] will not surprise her. But not being afraid to ask those questions—and knowing that God is going to have a story for her, and it’s not the end of her story—but not being discouraged by that.
I do believe that there can be a generational shift in this. That is a big reason why I wrote this book, because I do believe that a generational change is possible—and that there’s a rising up of young women in our church that can view their bodies the way that Christ created us to view our bodies, which is in His image.
Bob: Let’s assume that she maintains a healthy weight throughout her junior high and senior high years. As we said earlier, that does not mean that body image is not an issue for her. What are the regular check-ins you’ll be doing with her during these years, just to see: “How is she thinking about her own beauty and her own body image?”
Maria: Clothes shopping is one: just acknowledging both of our comfort levels with clothes shopping.
Being aware of when we grow out of clothes—even for our self, right?—like I’m not going to come to her and say, “I need to get those jeans out of your room”; but acknowledging, “Okay; we’re going to schedule a time to go clothes shopping and get some new things.”
I think also paying attention to her interactions with her friends. For her 12-year-old birthday party, I had 9 junior high girls over at my house; and that was just fascinating.
Ann: I bet.
Maria: It was so fun. But really listening to how they’re talking to one another. There was one particular thing that happened that I was able to witness, that I didn’t say anything at the time.
I rolled back around; both her and her best friend had lingered after the party. I had a conversation with them about one thing that I had heard her friend say—just to make her aware of certain ways that she maybe should think of responding to her—“…if you hear something said like that or not.”
Dave: What was that?
Maria: Her friend told an inappropriate joke that I don’t think her friend knew was an inappropriate joke. And I don’t think that any of her friends knew that her friend tells inappropriate jokes. But it’s something that, if she [daughter] had repeated to somebody else, or didn’t even realize what she was saying; so I just wanted to—and I loved they were having these conversations in front of me. I wanted to make sure not to, at that moment, say, “What in the world?! You can’t say that!”; but to not ignore it.
Dave: As they go into high school, so much of their body image and how they think about it will be determined by their friends. How do you balance that?
Maria: I hope that that’s not true—
Dave: Yes; you give them the confidence.
Maria: —that they have places, where they’ve heard other things regularly, over time and consistently—and to talk honestly about it.
If your daughter comes to you—or my daughter comes to me—and says, “I think I’m fat,” instead of saying, “You are not fat; you’re beautiful!”—saying, “I’m so sorry that you feel like that. Sometimes I feel like that too.” Then offering her the opportunity to share why she feels like she’s fat. And reminding her that I’ve been where she is instead of shutting it down: “Don’t feel like that!” “Stop feeling like that.” Offering her the opportunity to elaborate a little bit as to where that root feeling comes from.
Ann: I think, too, giving our kids something bigger to live for. It’s not just about what they look like or the size pants they’re wearing. It’s that God created you in a way to do something on purpose for the kingdom/to expand His kingdom. It’s giving them vision for how God will use their gifts and strengths. I think that takes our eyes off of ourselves. That’s good for me to know—not just me—but for our kids too. I think that’s important.
Bob: To give your kids a heads-up as they head into these years and be able to say: “Sweetheart, look; you’re going to have friends, who are going to be so focused on their appearance and their weight. You’re going to hear these things, and it’s going to come your way. What you need to know is that there’s a lot of insecurity there. They’re finding their value and their worth in the wrong things. When you hear those things, you need to pray for those friends of yours. You need to understand they’re not thinking right; that God says our worth and our value is in these things...”
I think helping your kids know these conversations are around the corner; so that when it happens, they go, “Mom told me there were going to be conversations like this.” They’re alert to it; and they go, “Oh, I guess Mom does know what she’s talking about from time to time.”
I think the strategies you’ve outlined here are so helpful for moms. Again, the big strategy is you’ve got to start with yourself and say: “Do I have the right way of thinking? Do I have a God-based confidence that my appearance is not what’s going to define me as a woman/as a person?”
I’m grateful for the time we’ve been able to spend talking about this. Thank you for being here.
Maria: Thanks, Bob. I would like to say, “If it is possible for me/if God can do that in me—this little insecure teenager that really hated the way she looked—I believe it’s possible for anybody.”
Bob: That’s a good word; thank you. We hope God’s going to do it for a lot of people, who have been listening this week. We hope a lot of them will get your book. In fact, we’re making your book available this week to listeners, who can help support the ministry with a donation. Your ongoing support of FamilyLife Today is what makes these kinds of conversations possible.
If you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation of any amount, or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY and donate, we’ll send you Maria’s book as our way of saying, “Thank you for supporting this ministry.” Go to FamilyLifeToday.com; make an online donation; and ask for a copy of Maria Furlough’s book, Confident Moms, Confident Daughters. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY; make your donation by phone; and again, ask for a copy of the book we’ve been talking about on the radio this week. We’re happy to send it to you.
We’re so grateful for your support, particularly in these times; because this has been a stressful season for many of us. I’m sure that’s true for your local church/other ministries like FamilyLife Today. Whatever you can do to be generous and support those ministries that God is using in your life—trust me—they will be grateful. I know we will be grateful for whatever you’re able to do to help support FamilyLife Today in this season.
Now, tomorrow, Barbara Rainey is going to join us. She’s got some thoughts on prayer and how we need to maybe rethink the way we pray. I hope you can join us for that conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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