Father Knows Best: What Did Your Dad Teach You About Body Image?

One model's recent admission prompts our writer to talk about her own father's influence

Victoria's Secret model Brooklyn Decker recently told Self magazine that her father helped her reign in her body image issues: "I was always with other aspiring models. There were bingers and purgers, and everyone watched each other eat. I did juice fasts and crazy diets and ended up gaining weight. My father did an intervention and got me to stop wrecking my body."

Considering Decker looks like this, part of me wants to pop her in her perfect nose. Then I remembered that in Glamour magazine's most recent size issue, she was featured on the cover alongside “plus” model Crystal Renn and Victoria’s Secret stunner Alessandra Ambrosio. Renn and Ambrosio represented the two extremes (ie “big” and “little”), which left the 36C-24-34 Decker to fill the “medium-size” role. As one Jezebel.com reader noted, “I don't think it's shocking that someone attempting to make a living as a model who is ‘too big’ to do a lot of the work models do would be self conscious and even self destructive about her size and body.”

Once I move past my initial catty reaction (after all, pretty women have eating disorders, too), Decker’s revelation got me thinking about my own father and his impact on my body image. One of my very first memories is of stumbling upon his Playboy collection. I was maybe six or seven and what I remember thinking was this: “I’m supposed to look like these women.”

In his defense, I need to say my parents never critiqued my appearance. I wasn’t excessively praised for my looks, even though my height garnered all sorts of positive commentary from their friends (most often in the words, “My goodness, she’s so big!”) Despite the fact that I carried around a good 10 pounds of hypothyroid-induced chub, a castigatory peep was never uttered. My parents showed interest in my thoughts and dreams, not my pant size. Still, Playboy is a powerful entity, and those magazines shaped my view of the type of body women should strive for (as opposed to just allowing our bodies to evolve naturally.)

Then there was the summer after my freshman year of high school, when I was involved in a bicycle accident that left me with second and third degree burns over 20 percent of my body. I recall crying one day in our kitchen, wailing about how no boy would ever want to date me with the scars blanketing my legs. My dad brushed away my tears and asked, “Why would you want to be with someone who only cared about you for your looks?” He promised me that one day, a smart, nice young man would recognize me for the treasure I am.

But, the most poignant body image lesson was delivered when I was 17 and in the midst of an eating disorder. I had shed about 25 pounds in my first two months away at college and all hell broke loose during Thanksgiving break, when I returned home. After a few moments of silence, my father began yelling, “Where did my daughter go?” He whipped out his wallet and pulled out an older photo of me. "Look at how beautiful you are, Leslie! Where did the light in your eyes go?," he wept. His breakdown was the turning point in my decision to seek help.

Part of me is afraid to show this blog to my father. I don’t want him thinking his secret porn stash scarred me for life (though it did) or somehow caused my anorexia (it didn’t.) I haven’t torn through Dad’s underwear drawer in a while, but I like to think the Playboy bunnies are gone, replaced by golf magazines and Lipitor. And I will forever be grateful to him for raising me to be a confident, strong, outspoken woman who relies on her brain…but has a nice bod, to boot.

What are your thoughts? How did your father shape your body image? Chime in below!


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