Body image is one of the most powerful things that will impact our daughters. Teaching our daughters a healthy body image means imparting on them that what their body can do, is far more important than what it looks like. How often do you think your daughter hears how strong their legs are or how amazing it is that their mind created a wonderful piece of art or how caring her arms are holding her little brother or giving her friend the hug that they needed? There is so much emphasis on what her legs should look like in that dress or how her butt should look in those jeans or how flat her stomach should looks in a bathing suit. Our daughters are bombarded with how their body should look through our image obsessed society. Society teaches them being thinner means popularity, beauty and significance. So moms, listen up, you hold a BIG key. Really think about when you make remarks or comments about your daughter’s body, what is it about? Is it about what it can do or is it what it looks like? What comments do you make about your body? You have little sponges near you absorbing those words and applying it to their body.
For some of you, there may be some damaging old tapes playing that are from when you were a child and the comments that may have been made about your weight. If you were overweight as a child and felt judged by a parent(s), family member, friends, schoolmates or all of the above, then you are more than likely going to try to “protect” your child from experiencing that. You may try to control their food so they do not gain weight, with the “I don’t want you to go through what I went through” story behind it. You may have grown up in a household that weight was an important value. So it’s all you know to stay on top of your child’s weight to make sure that they are not gaining “too much” weight and impart the “value” of weight upon them.
As some of you know, I am involved in an amazing program here in St. Louis, called Girls In The Know, www.girlsintheknow.org. Girls In the Know is a non-profit organization that educates and empowers moms and their pre-teen daughters to make healthy and confident decisions as girls mature into adulthood. As a dietitian, my role for Girls In The Know, is to teach the girls and moms what a healthy body image looks like. I am so very passionate about reaching out to young girls and their mothers because I have seen, in my private practice, the damage that can be done when this education is not there. Moms that have brought their daughter in to see me, at 14-15 years old because they have gained a lot of weight over the last year. This sad ignorance has such a message that “you are not okay”, even though it is just their body developing into a woman’s body. A girl can gain 20-40 pounds in body fat during puberty. Their little girl body is widening, developing and maturing so she can one day have children. Fat is essential for this to happen. And over the time that puberty takes, into their late teens and sometimes early twenties, their body will distribute all of that beautiful tissue where it is supposed to go. Knowledge IS power. Your little girl knowing what her body will do and how normal it is that her body is changing is so very important to how she sees her body. She also needs to know that comparing herself to her friends is always a set up to feel inadequate, and that she doesn’t fit in because her body may look different from her friends. Everyone develops at different stages. Some get taller first, some get wider first, some, have both happening at the same time.
I had a moment several months ago as I was giving one of my talks for Girls In the Know, when I was talking about the relationship between body image and being able to listen to your body when you are hungry and full. A girl in the group who was in 5th grade, shared that she ignores her hunger a lot because she doesn’t want her friends to think she eats too much because of how her body looks compared to theirs. Her body was developing, while her friends hadn’t started yet. This “moment” for me, was that I was meant to be there that night to help this little girl hear that her body was perfect just as it was. These moments for me are pretty amazing. It’s when I know the big guy upstairs has planted me just where I am supposed to be. There was some ease on the beautiful little girl’s face when I told her that she was developing just as her body wanted her to develop. Trying to stop that was like trying to stop nature. Her body may be different from her friends, but her friends probably felt the same about theirs. The key is acceptance and her hearing that acceptance. I couldn’t help but wonder what her mom felt hearing her say the words that her daughter did. But I also know that she was surrounded by a lot of diet talk. I had heard her mom talking earlier about what she had eaten that day and how many “points over” she was. I cringed inside knowing that there was probably a lot of body bashing and judging in front of her daughter. And sadly, that showed itself when her daughter spoke of her own discomfort with her body.
Moms, if you struggle with your body, keep those sighs, body critiquing and checking in the mirror and unkind words to yourself. Better yet, celebrate your body and what it has done by creating those beautiful babies and take care and love your body. BE KIND to yourself. If you want to read more of my thoughts on this, read my previous post, www.beyondyoursurface.com/foodrules.
As women, our body image is constantly challenged. As we check out at the grocery store, we are bombarded with magazines telling us we can be firmer, flatter and more toned with pictures of airbrushed and photo shopped models on the front and inside. As we flip through the pages, we feel as if our bodies are not enough, that they can better than they are now. But comparing ourselves to the eighteen year old model that has never had kids or the completely photo shopped “mom of three” will never make us feel that we “are enough.” As grown adults we experience this. Just think about what our daughters feel when their bodies and faces are changing and they are seeing these pictures. These flawless, curve less, “perfect” images staring back at them on pages that tell them this is what they should look like. Think about the imprint that it has if they do not know that these people are so digitally modified. That some of these models do not even exist and are creations of photograph editors.
Helping our daughters have a positive body image means teaching them to see and love themselves based on who they are, not what size they are. It is letting them hear how hard working, kind, loving, caring, strong, patient, energetic, creative, playful and fun they are, every day. When she starts complaining about her body, do NOT comment. Just LISTEN. Give her the knowledge about her body and why it is changing. Encourage her to listen, respect and take care of their body. As a mother, the language that you use about your body, as well as your daughter’s will impact how she sees herself-inside and out. So let us always demonstrate and teach love, respect and compassion for ourselves and our bodies, so we can all see our true beauty.