Every year before the Emmys, Padma Lakshmi goes on a strict diet and fitness regimen (which involves no meat, no wheat, no cheese, no fried food, and no sweets and two-hour workouts daily), so she can fit into a haute couture gown on the red carpet. After all, the Top Chef host says she consumes so many calories during filming of the competitive cooking show that she pretty much consistently gains between 10 to 17 pounds every season. In a guest column posted in The Hollywood Reporter yesterday, Wednesday, August 23, the 46-year-old explained that she's now changing how she talks -- and thinks -- about her weight, for the sake of her daughter Krishna.
"Recently, I realized my daughter, who is 7½, has been listening to me talk about my weight," Lakshmi wrote. "When we have taco night, I have taco salad with just a few crumpled chips. No tortillas, sour cream or cheese. When we order pizza, I get it for her, but I have leftovers of brown rice and lentils. When we make pasta, I have only Ragu with greens."
Seeing her mom's habits has had an effect on Krishna. "While I've been working to lose weight, she has been going through a growth spurt," she explained in the column. "She still asks me to carry her, but now she's 4 feet tall and weighs nearly 60 pounds. So, I've inadvertently been telling her, 'You're too heavy now to lift.' She's noticed, and suddenly she's told me and others in our circle, 'I don't want to eat because I'm watching my figure,' or, 'I weigh too much.' I wasn't thinking anything of the sort when I was 7 or 10 or even 13."
Lakshmi isn't alone. Many moms have the very same heartbreaking realization when they see just how much their little ones are paying attention to talk and actions around weight and body image. It's one thing to model healthy habits for your kiddos, but it can feel downright devastating to know that they're picking up on and being negatively affected by potentially toxic behaviors.
"Language matters," Lakshmi wrote. "We send signals to our daughters every day. And I am her first touchstone of femininity. ... In my household, where I'm constantly getting my hair and makeup done for press regarding Top Chef and other projects, my daughter bears witness to an unnatural focus on my appearance, by me and other professionals. She's not getting these messages only from me, she's getting them from every billboard, from every magazine that's casually lying on our coffee table."
That said, she concluded that while she "can't block my child from reality and the culture that we live in," she can take responsiblity for fostering a "healthy self-image and normal childhood" for her little girl. "I want her to cultivate her mind. I always say, 'Beauty is skin-deep, but dumb and dull are to the bone,'" Lakshmi noted. "So, this year, I've decided my weight will not be my focus. If I need a bigger dress, so be it. That one day -- or any day -- on the red carpet isn't nearly as important as making sure my daughter doesn't measure her worth by her dress size. And if at my family wedding I have a few more samosas, so be it."
Cheers to this mama for being aware of and calling attention to a challenging and all too prevalent issue among mothers and kids, especially their daughters. The message of body acceptance and self-worth that she's planning to teach Krishna is a powerful one every little girl needs to hear.