We are pleased to introduce Tanya, from www.twowisechicks.com, who is here to share a post that hits close to home, for me. This is such an important message to all of us, and we are thrilled to have Tanya sharing her perspective with us! Let’s give her a warm, HowDoesShe welcome!
I feel like somewhat of a fraud writing about healthy body image, especially when I consider that mine is less than stellar. It is a LOT better now, at the ripe age of almost 44, than it was when I was say 14, 24 or even 34. Better, but not perfect. And what I mean by ‘perfect’ is where I would like it to be for me. I’m not talking about society’s view of perfect, which is really an unattainable plastic version of reality.
Are you guilty of striving for perfection? I know was for many years.
Don’t you find it interesting that it doesn’t matter how fabulous your nose, how thick or thin your thighs are, how wow your waist, how shiny your hair, how straight your teeth, how rockin’ your toes – most women I have ever met will have at least one thing that they dislike intensely about their appearance. And it is this one thing that becomes the focus of 98% of our emotional attention. I know that have been guilty of this – are you?
Why is this? Why – despite the fact that we know better, we know how fabulous we are (or how fabulous we would like to think we are) – do we beat ourselves up over our physical appearance? While it cannot be boiled down to just one reason (there are many: society, media, peer pressure to conform, the list goes on), talking to my mom friends has shed light on the simplest answer: it’s our mothers’ fault.
Really??? I can almost hear you groan. Our mothers are getting lumped with this as well? Before you start typing hate mail or formulating your rebuttals, bear with me. While I do think they are (at least partially) to blame, they are not completely. Not exclusively. And most definitely not intentionally. (By the way, I am pointing at mothers here simply because the majority of readers of this article will likely be women. However, given that we are most influenced by the body image beliefs of our same-sex parent, please substitute ‘father’ if you are a male reading this).
Let’s think about it though. How many of us had mothers that stood in front of a mirror and sighed or groaned when their jeans didn’t zip up, or moaned about a pimple on the side of their nose, or how dry and brittle their hair was, or griped about the fine lines around their eyes?
How many of us as a child watched that, and thought “I don’t know what she is talking about, my mommy is beautiful!”
How many of us notice the same type of statements are now running through our own minds, as if on repeat? Sometimes, we don’t even know it’s happening, unless we stop to think about it. Take a moment right now if you’re not sure: If the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror you didn’t think to yourself “Wow, you’re killing it today!” then what did you think?
Or maybe you didn’t even really look in the mirror today. Maybe you avoid mirrors altogether.
Small children (birth until 10 years approximately) learn more by watching and observing than they do by being told how to do something. In fact, according to Piaget – one of the most influential developmental psychologists in our history – a child’s ability to understand and apply advanced abstract social concepts is difficult until at least 11 years old and beyond. And body image is exactly that: an abstract concept. So, rather than learning by being told stuff, young children learn by simply watching mom (or dad, or older sibling, or teacher, or TV personality) doing something – anything – and if they see it often enough, they learn it. If you’re not sure how influenced children are by what they see, think about the last time you had to hear your child sing “Let It Go” word for word, with actions and all. Over. And Over. And Over.
I speak from (traumatic) experience.
While small children are not good with abstract concepts, they ARE very good at associating feelings with a label and words. In fact, just seeing others’ reactions to labels and words (for example, seeing someone frequently ask “do I look fat in this?” and then change into seventeen other outfits until there is one that is more “slimming” – oops, guilty again) can make an emotional connection for them. The word (‘fat” ‘ugly’ ‘tired-looking’ ‘old’ etc.) now is not just a word, it has meaning and value. And that meaning and value is bad. For example, in my house ‘fat’ was yucky and shameful. The legacy of ‘fat-shame’: my grandmother would come from her home in Germany approximately once a year to visit my mother in Canada. What was her favorite outing when she arrived there? No, not the world-famous Rocky Mountains, or the pristine Lake Louise. Instead, she wanted to visit a particular big-box store to people-watch. Why? To feel better about herself. She struggled with a negative body image until the day she died. Even in her 80’s it seemed to make her feel better about herself to see people who were heavier than herself.
I was always ‘chunky’ compared to most of my peers. This would not have been any kind of problem, except that I got frequent reminders at home and at school about how awful that was. The feeling of shame and the label ‘fat’ got interwoven for me at a very young age, and it has taken years to untangle the web of that legacy. For me, the importance of a positive body image has really come to the forefront of my attention given that I have three young daughters. Last thing in the world I want to do is pass along this legacy – of body-shame – to any of them.
Here’s the catch: my eldest daughter has a body type much like mine – she is chunkier than most of her friends. She is a fantastic swimmer, the most kind-hearted person in the world, a complete animal-loving nut, artist and the best friend a kid could have. Okay, okay, I’m totally biased – but I have that right, I’m her mother <insert proud sigh>.
As her mother, I so desperately want her to avoid the shame, ridicule, teasing that I lived through as a kid. Finding a balance between teaching her the importance of healthy eating and exercise habits, and my own skewed body-image issues is HARD. Despite knowing that I am doing the right things (and possibly some of the wrong ones), her size is bringing up all of my own demons. And so I have made sure to reach out for advice, tips and emotional reinforcement to know that I am, in fact, handling my daughters very important self-esteem with the care it deserves.
As a mom, I know I am not alone. As you read this, if there is something that you struggle with about your body image, I challenge you to name it, and to really think about how you might be passing along its legacy to your children. This is a hard thing to do – none of us like to think we are doing anything even remotely harmful to our children. And honestly, a random comment here and there is no big deal. I am talking about the constant (perhaps hard-to-detect) hum of self-criticism.
Do you mutter about needing to go on a diet? Do you make comments about how you wish you had a metabolism like your kids/husband/best friend? Do you find yourself chatting with your girlfriends about other girlfriends (or media personalities), and make derogatory comments about your own body? about others’ bodies? Are your kids listening? Are they watching?
If you’ve answered yes when you asked yourself any of those questions, hope is not lost and there is some great news! If you want to instill a healthy body image in your children, it’s simple – accept a healthy body image for yourself (or, at the very least, fake it for now). Here are some easy-to-apply tips to achieve a healthier body-image that I have used – and they have made a huge difference in not only how I think about myself, but how I act and speak around my daughters. Trust me, if I can do these things, you can too:
1. When describing yourself, be kind. You do not have to say anything that feels untrue. Simply be kind. Describe yourself as you would describe someone you care about. And when in doubt – don’t say anything!
2. Limit your young child’s exposure to media – much of which as a sole focus to ‘sell’ a standard concept of beauty. Children are smart – they see what is presented to them, and will quickly notice if they are dramatically different than what they see. If they do, talk to them about about difference norms and exceptions. This is key.
3. Make sure you take care of how you look. I don’t mean dress up or dress fashionably. Wear sweatpants or wear designer duds – it doesn’t matter. Whatever you wear, rock it. Show your children (and the world) that you are comfortable in your body no matter what you are wearing. Display on the outside what you feel (or would like to feel) on the inside. It is perfectly okay to Fake It Til Ya Make It.
4. Take care of your body. Be a healthy role model for your children. Eat healthy foods, exercise and rest as necessary. Basically, treat your body with the respect you deserve, and your children (and others) will follow suit.
5. When your children are ready to talk about their own body issues, be ready to talk, and be real. Describe your own struggles (if relevant) in only as much detail as is helpful. Sometimes when kids know you have struggled (but now you’re AWESOME) or are still struggling (but you’re still AWESOME) it helps them to understand, feel closer to you. And it normalizes struggle and help-seeking for them as well – all good right?
6. Shift your focus from critical to grateful. Give thanks for all of what is good with you. And there is much more good than there is bad (trust me – I haven’t met anybody yet where that is not true) Give thanks for all of what is good for you. Take time to honestly assess your life, and you will see that there is more good than bad – you may simply not have noticed. If you are having difficulty with this assessment as a trusted friend or mentor for help (we can often have difficulty being objective about ourselves).
7. Be mindful. Change is difficult. We all tend to resort to old patterns of behavior when we are tired, stressed or ‘triggered’ in some way. The more you can stay in the present moment (not distracted or having flashes of how tight your own pants are), you can make healthier choices, and behave in ways that create new belief patterns for and with your children.
No matter what hardships you have faced, what struggles you still deal with in your own journey, I believe it is possible to change the body-image legacy for the better for us and our children – no ‘perfection’ required.
Tanya Tinney is passionate about self-development. Her previous life as a licensed psychologist only barely prepared her for everyday life as a mother of three (including twins). She lives her passion for empowering others by providing self-help tips and real-life anecdotes in a blog that she co-authors with her long-time friend and peer, Sally. As one of the ‘Two Wise Chicks’ she exposes her readers to her flexible grammar rules, tongue-in-cheek humor and charmingly child-like stick-figure drawings.
Tanya is an amateur photographer, and has many unwilling victims in her two dogs, three cats and, of course, her children. At any given time she could be drinking a strong cup of tea, writing for her own blog, baking banana bread, vacuuming up pieces of lego or being walked by her dogs.
You can find more from Tanya at: www.twowisechicks.com
We all need these gentle reminders, don’t we? Being a positive role model for the young ones in our lives is something we all can be more conscience of, right? Check out these posts with tips for being the best parent/role model we can be: