Katherine Schwarzenegger felt something was terribly wrong last summer, when she overheard her young cousins chatting about their bodies.
“They’re 8 years old and were talking about how they don’t want to be fat and how they want to be ‘sexy,’” says the 20-year-old daughter of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and journalist Maria Shriver.
It wasn’t the first time Katherine had heard the girls and other young friends discuss body-image issues. She, herself, had struggled to maintain her self-esteem under media and public scrutiny.
Now a junior at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, Katherine eventually tackled her body-image issues and developed self-confidence—and she shares her hard-earned wisdom in a new book, Rock What You’ve Got: Secrets to Loving Your Inner and Outer Beauty from Someone Who’s Been There and Back.
“I want girls to read this and feel that it’s OK to be themselves—and to understand that every girl can be beautiful no matter what size and shape she is,” Katherine says. “You don’t have to look like you’re on a billboard to feel beautiful. I really wanted to correct girls’ perception of that.”
Katherine’s book describes growing up as the daughter of a famous bodybuilder-turned-blockbuster celebrity and a mother who built a successful career in front of the camera. Maria Shriver had also suffered her share of body-image pressures, growing up under the strict food rules of mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who was 5’9” and never weighed more than 100 pounds during most of her adult life.
As a result, “Mom never forced us to eat or stop eating,” Katherine writes. “She never policed us.”
The Gubernator, on the other hand, was more of a food watchdog, prone to ask: “Are you sure you need that second helping?” He’d point out how many calories were in the muffin she was eating and would trash any ice cream and junk food when he was gearing up to film a movie.
Katherine also pulls back the curtain on the Kennedys—or, at least, how she felt growing up a Kennedy. She considered herself a misfit during summers at her family’s compound on Cape Cod. The hairstyle, multiple earrings and dark nail polish she wore to express herself in Los Angeles made her feel “a little like the black sheep in my conservative extended family,” she writes. Her cousins’ questions and criticism left her feeling “insecure and lost.”
But she credits her parents with the firm, but supportive, upbringing that made her feel secure and ultimately steered her toward mature decisions. Her mother, she says, was not one of the “cool” moms; she was reassuring and never judgmental, but she wasn’t a pushover. There was no negotiating.
“Throughout the book, you get a sense of how real they really are and how they’re really like every other parent,” Katherine says. “They deal with the exact same issues every other parent deals with.”
She also weaves expert interviews throughout the book, as well as statistics on eating disorders, body-image issues, plastic surgery and birth control. Her “Moms Only” sections offer advice on raising healthy teen and preteen girls. Katherine also encourages adolescent readers to strengthen their ties and seek advice from their mothers as they struggle with self-doubts.
“I never thought I would write a book,” she admits. “But my fuel came from research and information on the growing number of girls who feel so much pressure to be thin—and how young all of this is starting. My goal is to let girls know they’re not alone when they’re going through this and to spread the word about what young girls are going through today. Society needs to know about the kind of pressure that is put on girls. We have to change it in some way.”