Tracy Villaume thought it was a little odd when her 5-year-old daughter, Emma, stood up after dinner and announced she thought she was getting fat. For a second, Villaume wondered where a healthy, carefree girl with bobbed hair and a penchant for pairing dresses with sneakers would pick up a grown-up concern like that. The incident passed, and Villaume forgot about it.
Later, while watching a Katie Couric report on diet and health trends for young women, she learned that preteen body image problems are often sparked by moms who vocalize their insecurities.
“I sort of had an epiphany,” she said. Villaume realized she often pointed out her flaws well within Emma’s earshot. On the spur of the moment, she decided to make a change.
Villaume, a career event planner who decided to spend some time at home in April, once managed the schedule of an NBC executive. With her newfound free time, she’d been indulging in “The Today Show,” which she missed when she worked full-time and couldn’t watch.
During the month of August, the show has sponsored a 30-Day Detox Challenge and invited viewers to give up their vices. Inspiration struck Villaume, who sent an email to the producers.
“I’ve never done that before in my life,” she said about reaching out to a TV show. Of course, they called. “Today Show” personality Jill Martin invited her to be one of a few viewers who will log their progress with a national audience and weekly check-ins on their progress. Others are giving up soda, carbs, smartphones and shopping.
“I like to drink coffee but I think it would be relatively easy just to stop for 30 days,” Villaume said. This personal and tough-to-measure habit might be more difficult to kick.
Officially, Villaume is “detoxing” from negative self-talk. She had to send a list of rules to the show that she promised to follow. Among them are pledges to avoid saying anything bad about her own appearance, keep time in front of the mirror short and purposeful, and not seek others’ opinions about her outfits.
Each time she breaks a rule, Villaume’s punishment, if it can be called that, is to give herself three compliments. Though that might sound easy, it’s awkward when self-deprecating comments have become a habit and even a social norm.
“I kind of wanted to hold myself accountable,” said Villaume, who also has a young son she hopes will grow up to be confident. “The older they get, the more they observe.”
She needed the boost because she knew the change wouldn’t be easy. Standing in front of a mirror, critiquing her flaws, had begun as a habit during high school and persisted into adulthood.
“The first two days, I blew it,” she confessed. Then, after a couple of successful and positive days, she slipped again. While out for drinks with friends, including one from her high school days, she made a negative comment about herself.
“It just came out of my mouth without even thinking about it,” she said. She took a breath and explained the 30-day detox to her friends. Then she accepted the consequences of her slip and, out loud, listed three things she liked about herself that day.
It’s not the only change Villaume is making—and probably not her last television appearance, either. Following her lifelong dream of working in broadcast news, she will begin attending The New School for broadcast journalism in September.
“I was always a late starter,” she said. She hopes her kids see the step she’s making as an acknowledgement that it’s never too late to go after a dream.
Villaume acknowledges that while her motivation for self-improvement is about her kids, the positivity has already been liberating for her, too.
“I feel like I’m such a nicer, happier person,” she said after less than a week working at her 30-day detox from negativity.
It seems to be working for her daughter, too. “This morning I said, ‘Emma, do you think you’re pretty?’” Villaume said. Her enthusiastic response? “Yes!”
This story originally appeared in Your Niskayuna.