Jenna Bush Hager Says Barbara Bush Body Shamed Her as a Teen

The TV host's grandmother made a comment that stuck with her for years.

Judgments that you hear in your youth can continue to impact you as an adult. On a recent episode of Today with Hoda and Jenna, Jenna Bush Hager opened up about one such remark. Her grandmother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, said something to her when she was a teenager that had a lasting effect. The morning show host recalled the Bush making a comment about her body that resulted in Hager refusing to wear a bikini again for years.

Hager said that she "adored" her grandmother, who died in 2018, and that Bush had later apologized for the hurtful remark. Read on to find out more

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Bush body shamed a teenage Hager when she was wearing a bikini.

On the Jan. 6 episode of Today, co-hosts Hager and Hoda Kotb discussed a recent interview singer Billie Eilish gave to Vogue in which she talked about learning to be comfortable with her body. Kotb said that a lot of people have complicated relationships with their bodies, and then Hager shared her own story.

"It's so interesting, because I feel like even little things that were said," Hager started. "I mean, I remember being a teenager. I remember the bikini color that I was wearing. A yellow bikini color. I was laying next to my sister. And my grandmother—who I adored, but had kind of a biting personality—said something like, 'Oh, Jenna, looking chubby.' And I remember feeling like I wanted to hide in it."

It made her self-conscious for years.

Jenna Bush Hager at the 2017 Golden Globes
Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock

Bush's comment had a lasting impact on her granddaughter.

"I didn't wear a bikini for years," Hager said, explaining that "last year, after having three kids, three C-sections," she wore one again. The host said that she was inspired by Kotb, who herself had gotten to a place where she was comfortable with her body.

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Bush later explained to Hager why she said what she did.

Barbara Bush, sisters Jenna and Barbara Bush, and Jenna Welch at the 2000 Republican National Convention
Pool Photo/Liaison via Getty Images

Hager said that her grandmother later recognized why she thought it was acceptable to give an unsolicited opinion of her granddaughter's body.

"She later told me that her mother said those types of things to her," Hager explained. "Her mother always thought of her sister as the really beautiful one and would say it. 'Martha's the pretty one, you're the funny one, you're the smart one. Martha's this one, you're that one.'"

She continued, "Late in life, she said, 'You know, when I said those things to you, I was talking to myself.'" Kotb commented that it was "profound" that Bush actually acknowledged this.

Hager has struggled with her body image since childhood.

Sisters Jenna and Barbara Bush at the Hudson River Park Friends Playground Committee Luncheon in 2019
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Hudson River Park Friends Playground Committee

Hager talked about her relationship with her body during a Today show episode in 2019. She shared with co-host Meredith Vieira that when she was in first grade, she wrote in her journal that her new year's resolution was to lose weight.

"I opened my first grade journal, so I must have been seven or eight. I could barely write, I could definitely not spell, and my new year's resolution was to lose four pounds. And I actually scratched out seven and wrote four," Hager said.

Her twin sister, also named Barbara Bush, was the one who read the journal first. "Barbara read it actually," Hager said. "And then cried for her little twin sister—or larger twin sister. And then decided not to show me 'cause she didn't want it to break my heart, and then I found it."

Hager, who has two daughters and a son, talked about wanting to protect her kids from the same insecurities. "I see my perfect little girls right now," she said. "And they look at themselves in the mirror and they're so proud, and I'm like, 'How can I leave that? How can that stay?' I don't know the answer."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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