Peaceful Woman

Call it tough love. But if you hate your body, now is the time to do something radical: Get over it. Especially if there's a daughter in the house.

The truth is, many of us are in abusive relationships with our bodies, internally beating ourselves up every time we gain a few pounds, externally jeopardizing our health with crash diets, binge eating, even serious surgeries. Poor body image is passed on like a computer virus from mother to daughter, its disadvantages well documented: low self-esteem, sexual promiscuity, smoking (weight control being a major factor in the rise of smoking among teenage girls), and eating disorders—which can kill. LLuminari, O's team of 15 doctors and health experts (most of them female, many with daughters and body issues of their own), urges you to break the cycle.

No one's saying it's easy. Our culture, with its fixation on subzero supermodels and the invasion of Botox, clearly belongs to the young and the fleshless. (Do we really need a movie to remind people that real women have curves?) But Madison Avenue isn't going to fix the warp. Men don't seem headed for sudden indifference to Gisele and Maxim covers. The diet industry will no doubt keep us jonesing for ultralean as long as Americans spend more on weight-loss products than some countries' entire gross national products. The whole media machine is not going to change course: When magazines use plus-size fashion models with some meat on them, most women turn the page.

Our mothers, often unwittingly, have driven these messages home—if not by harping on our weight or looks, then by their own grapefruit-and-cottage-cheese diets or anxieties about physical inadequacies. "Kids are sponges," says Nancy Snyderman, MD, author of Girl in the Mirror: Mothers and Daughters in the Years of Adolescence. "A daughter sees that her mother is beautiful and doesn't like herself, and thinks, 'What does that mean for me?'"

"The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages," Virginia Woolf once wrote. It's up to us to escape with our self-esteem intact. If we don't, we and our daughters will remain hostage to our culture's belittling messages.

Next: Take the first step: Cut out your junk thoughts!

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