Feb. 26, 2014 at 11:36 AM ET
Perhaps we have worried about looking fat in our jeans, sworn off dessert only to sneak bites of cake or scrutinized the number on the scale. As mothers, we should know that all the while, little eyes may be watching and learning.
As TODAY explores body image in this week’s “Love Your Selfie” series, NBC special anchor Maria Shriver examined how habits — good and bad — are passed down to the next generation and how moms can learn from their kids as well.
Along with Cameron Diaz, the actress and author of “The Body Book,” Shriver talked with several sets of mothers and daughters about how their behaviors can influence each other.
The discussion came as the TODAY/AOL body image survey found that 57 percent of mothers worry about how their body image impacts their children, while 45 percent of women ages 16 to 21 felt a parent’s body image affects how they feel about their own bodies.
Diaz said she wrote her book about building a healthier, stronger body because she believes “there is not one generation yet of mothers who have raised their daughters understanding the actual science of their bodies.”
“The answer of how we can be who we want to be and who we're meant to be is really having the knowledge of knowing what's going on within our bodies,” said Diaz, 41.
Dana, one of the mothers who appeared in the TODAY segment Wednesday, says she has urged her daughters, Emily and Claire, to avoid doing the emotional eating that she has done: craving a cookie if she was upset, a cupcake if she was happy.
“I've eaten my way to this point,” said Dana, 51, gesturing to her body.
But Emily said her mother has done a great job when it comes to body image.
“I was taught always, always, from day one, that beauty comes from within,” said Emily, 23.
The women seemed to agree that they are learning about their bodies from their daughters.
“She’s taught me so much,” Cathy, 58, said of her 35-year-old daughter, Jennifer. “I knew what to eat and what not to eat, not that I did it. But through her, I’m learning so much more about why.”
Speaking with Matt Lauer after the segment, Shriver said her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, set a good example, though she didn’t talk much about nutrition.
“My mom stressed mental health and physical health and she was also really adamant _ she came out of the women’s movement, to not focus on your looks but to focus on your brain,” Shriver said.
But talking about healthy eating, Shriver said, is a phenomenon that most women on the panel felt has emerged in the last 10 to 15 years.
“So many of our daughters are actually educating us about what’s good for us, about kale,” Shriver said. “I had never heard of kale, or quinoa or any of these things until recently. I was on the Twinkie bandwagon.”
In the segment, Diaz discussed her experience with food, saying that what she liked to eat, a bean burrito with extra cheese, affected how she looked.
“I literally had 50, I'm not exaggerating, 50 cystic acnes all over my face,” she said. “You come to the place of starting to think, ‘What is this really doing? If it's doing that to my face, what is it doing to my innards?’”
Jennifer shared that she didn’t eat white bread until she was 9 because it wasn’t allowed in the house. But she said, “I didn’t know why it wasn’t good for me.”
Diaz said empowerment comes from answers to those kinds of questions. “If you had that information to convey to her, she might have thought of things differently at 9 years old,” she said to Jennifer’s mom.
Women should learn about their bodies and share their wisdom with the children they raise, Diaz said.
“The knowledge of your body and how it works on a cellular level, and understanding what that truly, truly means, is the best thing that a mother can understand,” Diaz said, “not just for herself, but then can pass on to her daughter or her children.”
All week, TODAY is exploring the issues we all face with body image on a daily basis, hoping to help you change the way you see yourself. Everyone from Naomi Campbell to Michelle Obama will weigh in. Follow the series at TODAY.com/LoveYourSelfie.