Building a better body image with our daughters.
Instilling a positive sense of self is one of the lasting gifts we can give our children.
A large part of that in modern society relates to body image – helping our little girls feel confident and worthwhile in their own skin. Women always seem to be under pressure to look their best, and quite often the ideal presented by airbrushed magazine models is potentially dangerous to how we view ourselves (and our heath). Our girls need to know the reality.
From a very young age girls are exposed to music videos, fashion magazines, Barbie dolls, advertising and TV shows that focus on appearance. The ideal image the media bombards us with is the skinny supermodel or actress, who’s image has most likely been manipulated to within an inch of it’s life. My fear is that this creates the unnecessary expectation of body image, setting them up for disappointment, low self-esteem, or even depression and eating disorders. In other words, failure by someone else’s rules.
But make no mistake, we are our little girls most important role models. They are listening when we talk about our (and other’s) bodies. They notice when we diet and how often we do so, and this will become their reality too…
Our daughters need to know that true beauty lies within, and that they are respected and loved by their family and friends for who they are, not how they look.
My mother was very focused on her appearance, and knew that Dad liked his women skinny. I don’t recall specific negative self-talk about her body, but she seemed to be perpetually on a diet and certainly appearance was a hot topic on everyone’s lips at get-togethers. It’s a habit even amongst my own peer groups today, to the point where it’s almost a ‘conversation-padder’ like the weather. It wasn’t long before I was on the Weight Watchers bandwagon, beginning the diet merry-go-round which included diet pills at one point as appetite suppressors.
In my own home we don’t talk about our bodies in context of weight or shape. Rather, our bodies are strong, flexible or fit, and we like to explain how ‘moving our bodies’ makes us feel healthy and happy. It’s all about body function in our household, and proper nutrition and exercise takes care of that. We also don’t keep any scales, fashion magazines, watch video clips or the like around the house. However, Amercian sit coms are worryingly entering our zone, so it’s time to be vigilant!
As much as I try to protect my own daughter from this sort of exposure, this is the real world. The best I can do is to instill the values that I think will build a resilient woman who is confident and happy in herself.
– communication is crucial- explain how photos are manipulated, and why
– avoid emotive descriptions such as ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ and emphasise the benefits of a nutritious diet and exercise regimen for positive well being
– teach our girls to appreciate what our bodies can do, not just how they look
– focus on other factors other than appearance – effort, skill, positive personality traits and achievements
– draw attention to inspiring role models
– explain how sports and exercise clear the mind, and reduce stress and anxiety and highlight the good feelings produced after exercise and when eating a
– explain how sport and recreation connects you with nature (surfing, rock climbing), or how Nippers (surf life saving) gives you confidence and skills, while connecting you to your community
Above all, I want to be a positive role model for my daughter, and I am in the best place to do it! My 8yr old knows I am passionate about healthy food and exercise, but she doesn’t even imagine it is born of wanting my body to look a certain way. She knows it’s because I want to feel a certain way – healthy!
I have worked hard throughout life on acceptance and self love, and finally in my 40’s I have not dieted in years! It’s funny in a way that the process of eating properly gives you the results that dieters search for, the difference being that one is sustainable as a way of life, and the other is temporary.
I am healthy and happy, and I hope that’s how my daughter will be, not just in her 40’s, but from today onward.