Jenna Bush says her mom never criticized herself or discussed weight at home

Jenna Bush Hager said her mother, former First Lady Laura Bush, did a lot to bolster her self-image growing up. But it was what she didn’t say that did it. Jenna said that Laura never discussed weight during her childhood. Not only did Laura not bring up Jenna or her twin sister Barbara’s weight, she didn’t criticize her own appearance in front of the girls either. And Jenna said it made such a difference, she’s carrying on the practice with her own kids.

Jenna Bush Hager is grateful to her mom, former First Lady Laura Bush, for never talking about her weight when she and her twin sister Barbara were growing up — and now she’s trying to do the same for her young daughters.

Hager, 40, mentioned her appreciation for her mom on Thursday’s Today with Hoda & Jenna after talking about a recent outing to the grocery store where her daughters, Mila, 8, and Poppy, 6, spotted Hager on a magazine cover with a headline about her weight.

Mila “yells, ‘What are lbs.?’ And I go, ‘Oh Mila, nothing,’ ” Hager told co-host Hoda Kotb, which led Kotb to praise Hager for not teaching her daughter what it meant.

“You know what I love? She didn’t know what ‘lbs.’ are,” Kotb said. “You don’t bring it up.”

And Hager said that she “never” plans to talk to her daughters about her weight or theirs.

“I will never. And I had a mother that never [did], and I still felt like a chubby child. But it wasn’t because of her; I think it was because I was chubby,” she said.

Hager went on to praise her mom for abstaining from negative comments about her appearance.

“She never said things like, ‘Gosh, my hair looks terrible. Or, ‘I look terrible.’ Or ‘This dress looks bad on me,'” Hager said. “And somebody [once] said, ‘Well I can’t believe she never had that talk to herself.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m sure she said it to herself, but she never said it out loud in front of her girls.’ “

[From People]

Good for Laura and good for Jenna. I did not have this safety growing up. Hell, I don’t have this now. As a result, though, I never discuss my kids’ weight, so hopefully the cycle will break. I’m saddened to hear that someone made Jenna feel bad even though her family didn’t bring it up. Kids can be cruel. And as we always say, the media is powerful. Jenna also said that Laura told her to give herself grace after she’d had her babies. Jenna was feeling bad about her post-pregnancy body, and it was Laura who reminded her she needed to allow herself the time it would take.

I need to pay attention to the second part of this story, the part about not criticizing my appearance around my kids. I forget that just because I don’t criticize them doesn’t mean they don’t pick up on it. I know Jenna and Barbara are really close to Laura and I can see why. I always think back to Laura asking them to come to the White House to show Malia and Sasha Obama around during a visit with Michelle Obama so the girls would feel more comfortable. I think Laura understood a lot about mothering. I could lean a few things from her.

Photos via Instagram

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54 Responses to “Jenna Bush says her mom never criticized herself or discussed weight at home”

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  1. Rapunzel says:

    Yeah, I am not sure I believe this. Never covers a lot of ground. I’ll buy almost never. But I can’t believe she never once said a critical thing. She was living a very public life as First Lady of a state then nation. I’m sure she voiced something critical at least once.

    • Eurydice says:

      I didn’t see that it said Laura Bush never said anything critical at all – just that she didn’t criticize her appearance in front of her children.

      • Rapunzel says:

        I know but my point still stands. I’m sure something slipped through once.

        Sorry, this is just the English professor in me; I teach to never use absolutes because never (or all, every) is a very very strong word.

        Like Amy T said, what matters is her daughters didn’t internalize any negativity from her.

    • pixyloo says:

      I would have to disagree! My Mother was/is exactly the same & I really can’t recall her ever once criticising herself for looks or anything else really for that matter. And it’s not like she doesn’t care about her appearance, she’s always very well dressed and well put together.
      Sadly, it didn’t quite stop myself & my sister critiquing ourselves to no end! We always appreciate/d this way though.

    • tealily says:

      I can’t recall a single time my mother ever said anything critical about her or my weight. Ever.

    • Lucy says:

      My mom never did either. My grandma on the other hand, wheeeew.

    • Myjobistoprincess says:

      I think the Bush family is rich enough that they could allow to protect their children in this way which is great. Jenna could have been the fattest one on earth or the skinniest one – she was always going to be wealthy – no matter how far she went in life – she’s born on 3rd base. We also need to understand the life of other parents. Families from the “real” world need to protect their children by making sure their children fit in. You dont want your child being harassed or intimidated at school because they look a certain way. Sometimes it’s out of love that unfortunately parents need to point out such things.

      • AMA1977 says:

        I disagree; it’s never the job of a parent to point out that their child is chubby (or heavy, or overweight, etc.) It is a parent’s job to emphasize the importance of healthy foods and moving your body because it’s good for your health, and also to make sure your child knows that their outward appearance is not nearly as important as what is on the inside.

        I applaud this effort by Laura and Jenna both; I catch myself all the time and I am trying to eliminate that negativity in front of my 9 year-old daughter. I am trying to lose weight (down 15 pounds since January 1!!) by being mindful of what I eat and exercising, and I am careful to say that I am “making healthy choices” as opposed to dieting.

      • Poppies says:

        That seems to be a twisted way of looking at what Jenna Bush said. I didn’t grow up on third base. My parents never had much money but I was loved and supported and not once did my mum mention her weight or the weight of my two sisters and I in a negative way. I have a daughter and I don’t talk about my weight or her weight to her.

  2. HelloDolly! says:

    Yes on avoiding self critique about weight and other things in front of kids! Back when I was a teen, I remember my mom once said out loud to herself, “I am not pretty.” I remember thinking as a 14 year old, “Why does my mom feel that way? She certainly is pretty.” And I felt sad for my own mother in that moment. I do think I struggle with self love a bit because of my parents’ own behavior.

    • Jennifer says:

      My son saw me putting on makeup and asked why I didn’t like the way I looked. He was so sad about it.

      • HelloDolly! says:

        Oh, Jennifer! Your son sounds wonderful and empathic. Yes, I have never forgotten that moment seeing my mom put herself down and then me, as a 14 year old, comforting her! (I actually said to her, “Mom, that’s ridiculous!) I think it’s a good reminder to be kind to ourselves, especially as parents during a pandemic and this era we are living in/through.

    • Stefanie Says says:

      My mom has always been dieting for as long as I can remember. And as a kid I was really skinny and she used to say ‘it wouldn’t last’.
      And of course it didn’t last, but even now she gives me constant remarks about my weight.
      And it makes me sad that as she is now 70 she is still constantly on a diet.

      • My grandma is 86 and she is still on a diet.She counts carbs.Stays around 20 grams/daily or less.She used this method to lose about 40 lbs a few years ago. I literally can’t stand to talk to her about this as she is and has always been obsessed and was terribly critical of my appearance growing up in the 80’s and 90’s.
        It’s a cycle that I’m breaking with my own beautiful daughter.
        My daughters is like wtf with grandma…I grew up thinking the only way to live was on a diet,and I refuse to live this way or impart this garbage o to my own sweet girl.

      • mellie says:

        @Spice cake 38 – that is so interesting, must be the generation b/c my grandma passed away @ age 99 last year, and she and her sisters were forever on a diet, always criticizing each other (and others) about their weight. The first thing they would say to someone is “oh, you look so skinny” or just nothing, which meant “you are too fat”. For me, I didn’t think much about it because I just loved my grandma so much, I didn’t struggle with my weight too terribly much (at the time, I do now a bit), but for my mom, who was always taller and bigger boned, she has struggled with it to this day. Those words have affected her so much and I feel so sorry for her that, those words is the only memories she can remember of her mom and her aunts – constant word vomit about her weight. She’s 75 years old and that’s always on her mind!

    • Amy T says:

      We watched our mom and aunts obsess about their size and perpetually talk about dieting and getting back into their clothes well into their 80s (and for some of them, their 90s). It was definitely a generational non-gift they passed on to all their daughters. I’m not sure what my daughters absorbed from me about weight and size, but I tried to stress that being healthy was more important than conforming to some subjective (and unattainable) standard of perfection. I probably succeeded – and failed. Because parenthood.

  3. Amy T says:

    Rapunzel’s point is well-taken. That said, that Jenna doesn’t *remember* her mother saying those kinds of things is the real point, and it’s huge. My sister and I grew up in a house with two fat-phobic and weight-obsessed parents. It definitely messes with your head.

    • Rapunzel says:

      Well said. This is an excellent point.

      • Myjobistoprincess says:

        I dont believe it was never brought up, but I think it’s possible that it wasnt brought up in a critical way – to make her remember it in a negative way. But like I said earlier, the Bushes are rich enough to protect their children from the harsh world this way. Jenna was never gonna be poor and struggling no matter fat or skinny. Ask a regular mom if she really thinks her overweight child is going to have the same opportunity than another with what we call a “normal” weight. She is going to try and help her child: the weight will be brought up. It might not be critical for the mom, it will probably be all about health, but for the child, it might be taken as criticism and overtime, it will traumatize.

    • Justwastingtime says:

      Not a huge Shrub fan but both Laura and George seemed like good parents. The twins seem to genuinely like and support each other and you know that they were consistently compared to each other by the outside world (but I assume likely not compared or favored one over the other by their parents).

  4. SAS says:

    My sister and I were lucky enough to receive this gift from our parents.

    Along with no “when you get married one day/when you have kids”!! Also not to be underestimated!

    For an ABSENCE of something, it has such a strong and direct positive influence on your self-worth and contentment into adulthood. Not to say we don’t have any insecurities or don’t feel like we’ve failed our parents in certain ways, but those are two HUGE societal expectations (appearance and relationships) that we never felt the weight of in our own home and I’m grateful for it on at least a weekly basis.

  5. Abby says:

    This is a really great reminder of how I want to parent. My mom was overweight her whole life and was shamed for it. But while I watched her be discriminated against and struggle with her health, she never commented on her body or mine. She never talked about dieting. As an adult, I realize that really was a gift. She passed away when I was 25 so I never got to talk to her about that.

    Now as a mom, I went through a season where I slowly lost 25 pounds and it was work. It was even harder not to talk about it in front of our young kids (my daughter too), especially when it was something I was thinking about all the time.

    So I have to give props to Laura for approaching this issue in a healthy way. That was not the norm in the 90s, I don’t think. I feel like diet culture was really big then.

  6. Nancy says:

    I can believe she never criticized body shape in front of her daughters because my mom did the same. I still acquired a high level of self criticism because of society.

  7. Jo says:

    That is a good rule of thumb. If we can refrain from talking about people’s appearance around us, and women in particular it’s gold.
    There is another angle which is comfort: and this is something I do want to talk about with my kids. I know that if I am a certain shape it’s because I have been stress eating and not the healthiest of foods. If I see that kind of behaviour, I will flag it up and speak about it because it can have consequences later such as high cholesterol, clogged arteries, inflammation etc.
    But I think Bush meant the deeply ingrained self-hatred of one’s natural shape which is terrible. Not accepting how we are shaped (thigh gaps or not, protruding bones, love handles etc) is cause for a lot of discomfort and at times worse than that. I wish that would go away.
    The other day a straight female colleague told me: “there is nothing sexier than a confident woman”. That phrase stuck with me.

  8. Loco Moco says:

    My mother never criticized our appearance or her own as well. There are 4 girls, 3 being what society considers normal sized and a chubby one. My mom was on the chubby side as well. She just let us be and that’s a good thing.

  9. FHMom says:

    It’s really hard to avoid not criticizing your own appearance in front of daughters. I’m currently trying to drop some pandemic weight and keep emphasizing the words eating healthy instead of weight, but it feels useless. Kudos to Laura Bush.

  10. Erin says:

    My mom was the exact opposite of this and I can’t even describe the lasting effects it’s had on my self esteem even at 41. How refreshing to see that there are moms who aren’t like mine!

    • liz says:

      Same. And it did a number on my sister and me. But she had a poor example in her own mother and Mom had food/eating issues, too. It is possible to break the cycle, but it’s HARD! It took me a lot of therapy and a lot of education about healthy eating habits. My 17 year old has no idea what they weigh, they just know that the doctor is happy with their overall health and that their coaches have never had complaints about their strength, endurance or overall fitness.

      I also learned that high-quality sweets are far more satisfying than the cheap stuff, so you eat less and enjoy it more! I’d rather have a single Jaques Torres chocolate truffle over an entire bag of M&Ms.

    • Harper says:

      Same. My mom was not happy with her own appearance but would gush over anyone she knew that she thought was pretty or beautiful. She was also very annoyed when someone she thought wasn’t pretty enough was successful professionally or privately! It was a very shallow emphasis on what the world is about. I’ve been so careful not to mention looks to my children in any way other than to praise them, in the hope of encouraging them so when they go out in the world they do not feel that they are lacking or not good enough.

    • Heidi says:

      Growing up with a weight focused mother, this warms my heart. We are a tall, slim family and none of us struggle with weight (lucky, I know!!!), but my mom still controlled our food intake and constantly made barbed comments about our weight.
      My sister is a force to be reckoned with and she somehow had the ability to see the forest through the trees. She counseled me through my tears and panic about needing to lose weight and tossed out the scale in our bathroom.
      Having a mom like this forced us to reckon with our insecurities at a young age and we walked away stronger and more confident than we might have been otherwise. I think out of sheer stubbornness and refusal to be like her we rose above.
      It still stings, however. I struggle to keep weight on (long term health issues) and her joy at my slenderness is sad and infuriating. It also speaks to the societal demands for thinness and the push to be thin at any cost. The fact that I’m unwell, stop menstruating, etc due to weight loss is moot because, to her, I look good.
      There’s a lot to unpack on this issue overall.

  11. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I have to share the very first sentence I ever said in my entire life. You’re thinking Mama something something or Dada something something? Nope. I crawled up on the scales, looked the numbers and said, “Surely not!”

  12. Joanna says:

    My mom is 80 and still worried about keeping her weight down. I was hoping she would give herself a break as she got older but nope. I guess habits are hard to break. She also observes my weight and my brother’s. She’s learned I don’t want to hear it but she will talk about his my brother has put on so much weight etc. I just try to change the subject

  13. Kate says:

    This is nice to hear (not the part about some d**ks at a magazine talking about her weight though). Fatphobia is such an ingrained part of so many cultures. I’ve recently started reading the Harry Potter books to my young kids and I’ve noticed so many descriptions of a character we aren’t supposed to like as fat, that after the first few times I started skipping those adjectives. Like literally every time Dudley or Crabbe or Goyle does anything he does it fatly. Also re-watching Gilmore Girls lately and cringing at all the casual fatphobic comments. This is stuff I never noticed the first time around but now it feels so mean. But if you’re around that kind of casual negative commentary growing up either firsthand or in media that gets internalized in such harmful ways.

    • tealily says:

      I noticed that about Gilmore Girls too. Even in the reboot! So much about that show is so positive, but some of it hasn’t aged well.

  14. DiegoInSF says:

    My mom is not like that she could never call me handsome growing up lol people would always comment how handsome, pretty, etc I was and she would say – come on, don’t believe it!
    I’m lucky that Somehow I always knew I was really good looking and it didn’t effect me, she’s very self critical of herself too when she’s beautiful as well and is obsessed with her weight and can’t believe people who aren’t thin dare to go out. That didn’t affect me as much as I’m also very naturally thin but can see how effed up it is.

  15. MissMarirose says:

    I wish I had had a mother like Laura Bush. Maybe then I wouldn’t be the self-critical, anxiety ridden person I am today.

  16. Luna17 says:

    Not the biggest Bush fan but I think Laura did a good job here. My mother wasn’t critical of herself or me and isn’t too concerned with looks or being stylish which I disliked when I was younger but now appreciate. I hope to be a healthy role model for my daughter and this is a good reminder. It’s so crazy now with Instagram and all that fake filters, injections and surgery stuff that just wasn’t as normalized as it is now. My husbands step mom constantly talks about dieting and being fat (she is actually super tiny) and it’s exhausting and sad.

  17. Gubbinal says:

    When did this weight obsession start? Around 1900 or before?

    I have letters my grandmother wrote to her daughters (born 1920 and 1928) making fun of “fatty” neighbors. Telling them that the most important thing they could do in life was to stay under 100 pounds?

    My mother was always proud that her 6 children weighed under 7 lbs at birth. I was the “fattie” weighing 7 lbs and 6 ounces. My mother and her sister were obsessed with the fact that Jackie Kennedy probably had a bigger waist than was revealed to the public. I grew up being taught that Princess Anne was a “chubette”. In a stunning revelation, my mother always bragged that she was only 98 pounds (7 stone) when she went to the hospital to give birth to her youngest child.

    It took me a lot of work and therapy to understand that being rail thin did not define success in life. I am up in my 70’s and only now allowing myself to have a romance with carbohydrates.

    • FHMom says:

      I am watching a show on PBS called 1900 Island. As the name implies, four families are living on an island and having to survive as if it’s the year 1900. One family has 5 kids and food is definitely an issue. The littlest child has gone to the neighbors to “beg” for food, and the dad and mom have gone without for the sake of their kids. Judging by that, I would guess maybe after WW2? Food was an issue during the US Depression and Europeans probably had food shortages during the war. Sorry for the long reply. Some of your family members sound awful.

  18. bettyrose says:

    I never had a weight problem as a kid, but my mom really wanted me to have a trendy eating disorder. It was weird. She’s very naturally thin, while I’m more short and curvy, and I was small as a kid but never underweight or anything to suggest I had an ED (besides being a picky eater that preferred pasta to vegetables) but she was obsessed with cutting out articles about eating disorders and insisting I had one. It was definitely the trendy “after school special” topic at the time. She even made me go to a support group once with a friend of hers to see what it was really like for women who struggled with EDs. In her defense, I really don’t think she was trying to give me an ED as much as she just thought that was how one was supposed to parent. At least she never accused me of worshipping the devil, which was the other big parental insanity back then.

  19. NMB says:

    I can’t help it, but I love Jenna Bush. Probably an unpopular opinion on this site seeing, but I really do think the Bush family is genuinely a group of kind people, and I think it shows in what Jenna says on Today.

  20. Miranda says:

    This is an area where I have some difficulty co-parenting with my stepdaughter’s mom, who is incredibly weight-obsessed. She often tries to frame it as just advocating fitness, but then she once made a comment that there was no point in our (step)daughter taking gymnastics or dance because “she’s too chubby”, i.e. a child’s appearance while participating and potential for competitive success is more important than having a fun way to stay active and healthy. At the same time, when our (step)daughter goes to visit her in Alabama, she’s fed either junk food or whatever her mom’s latest fad diet entails, then comes home to us and worries aloud that she’s getting fat. (I will add here that my stepdaughter does not have a weight problem. She’s a healthy, athletic girl, but her mom seems to think 10-year-olds need to have washboard abs or something.) It’s frustrating to have to rebuild her confidence after every visit, but we can’t seem to broach the subject without her mom getting all huffy about it.

  21. HollyGolightly says:

    My mom was AWFUL about my weight growing-up and it’s still something I have so many issues with.

    I will never forget going to my mom’s office when I was 12-years-old. That night, my mom tells my dad, with me standing RIGHT there, “My boss said, ‘your daughter is SO cute!’ and I said, ‘…but what about the SIZE of her?’ and my boss said, ‘What do you mean? She’s not big?’ and I said, ‘well, she didn’t take after ME.'”

    I WASN’T REMOTELY BIG. I look back at photos and I WAS NOT BIG.

    My dad died when I was 16. At his wake, somebody said I looked just like my mom. Her immediate reaction was, “But she’s not BUILT like me.”

    My mom is super super skinny and lives on vodka and cigarettes.

    I’m a grown-up now, and, not going to lie, plenty of people tell me I have a killer body, but my body image issues are so beyond screwed-up because of the way I was raised. I actually crash diet for a week before seeing my mom so I look as thin as possible because I know how much she scrutinizes me.

    I am terrified of messing up a future daughter, truly. (Also, my dad was just as bad, and would point out how my thighs rubbed together at the beach and that this meant I was fat when I was probably around 13-15. My thighs are honestly just thick and always will be, even if I got down to a size 00. They probably still would rub together. My dad also made me do that fat “3 Day Diet” thing when I was in the 8th grade–I’m sure you know the one, like “eat three hot dogs and a can of beats” and you have a chemical reaction and lose weight.

    Ugh, it was truly the worst way to grow-up. I have so many issues.

    • Wilma says:

      I’m so sorry your mom did that to you. It really does a number on your self worth. My mom was pretty much the same. it made her super happy to be ably to say that she was thinner than me and to point out any perceived fat on my body. I worked a lot on this in therapy and what really worked for me was body neutrality. I hope you find something that will help you heal!

  22. Susan says:

    I was NEVER a fan of Laura Bush, especially when her husband was in office. I viewed her as one of those old school anti feminist women who bake pot roasts and “serve” their husband. Not based on real knowledge, just my feelings about that family I guess.

    Over time I have come to appreciate her. She hasn’t had the easiest life and managing life with him was no walk in the park I am sure. More importantly, I appreciate what a modern view this alleged “old school woman” has that many women younger than her haven’t grasped yet. Kudos to her.

  23. Emily says:

    I applaud them. It’s SO hard.

    Growing up, my mom was always on a diet. She always called herself fat even though she was underweight. I also listened to my dad critique celebrities’ bodies while we watched TV. I grew up with an unhealthy image of the ideal body. I went through a period of very restrictive eating in my 20. Even though I have a much better appreciation for my body I don’t think I’ll ever stop preferring being thin.

    My daughter is three. I try not to criticize myself, or grab my tummy fat, in front of her or pass on my weird hangups. My husband has to remind me all the time.

  24. Margot says:

    It’s so important not to criticize your appearance or your child’s appearance. I also think it’s important not to be really critical of other people. My parents weren’t critical of me or their own appearance, but I do remember them describing other people as fat. Hopefully there is more awareness about this nowadays.

  25. Normades says:

    I honestly don’t know what to think about the Bush family in general. George jr? Just a pawn who now paints and is cuddly with Michelle Obama? Laura? Never a bad word about her and I agree that she did good here. The girls seem pretty normal and ajusted with the other Bush girl rumored to attend Democratic functions. Still a horrible President and terrible regime (Cheney et al).

  26. Andie says:

    I believe her. My parents are the same way. The only comment I ever heard made about anyone’s weight was when my ✨skinny✨ Nana said something to my mom about one of my sisters, the one who didn’t inherit the bean pole gene the rest of us did. My mom just gave her a look and said “we aren’t going to make it an issue.” It was out of the ordinary enough that I took note, but looking back now I want to applaud my mother for it.

    Having said that, 2/3 of us did end up with disordered eating habits. But it wasn’t due to our parents influence.

  27. Juxtapoze says:

    I knew from a very young age my grandma valued “rich & thin” above all else. I’m now in my early 40’s and am SO done having conversations about peoples weight & physical appearance. 🤮

  28. Ladiabla says:

    Not really a fan of the Bushes but I did see Laura Bush once at the Kimball art museum in Fort Worth. They have money of course, but she had really great skin. It looked like she was a woman who took good care of herself; maybe she just didn’t emphasize this so much (to her daughters) and went about it in an offhand way. Good for her and the girls

  29. SourcesclosetoKate says:

    Her twin sister is thinner. I wonder if we get our issues relative to our siblings too. Like if she was the fun one I subconsciously gained weight to deflect attention.