Don't Pass Along a Bad Body Image

August 20, 2014 Providence Olympia

It takes all types of people to make a world – long legs, short legs, wide bodies, narrow bodies, young bodies and older bodies.

The only perfect body is a healthy one, built on good nutrition and regular physical activity. Unfortunately, that’s not the message we often portray on television and in the media.

More than 74 percent of normal weight college women admitted they thought about body image “frequently” or “all the time,” according to one survey. And most of those thoughts were negative.

Body image is an important part of overall self-image, which, in turn, affects both mental and physical health. Even if you’re aware of your own tendency to obsess about your body, it’s important not to pass those worries along to our sons and daughters.

During a time when they’re undergoing major changes in their body shape and size, adolescents are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, media images and random comments from their friends. They can’t escape it.

You probably still feel the sting of comments made by your elders all those years ago. “That short skirt may not be the best way to show your legs, dear.” Or: “Don’t worry. Women in our family all have big bottoms.”

You can ignore those comments and develop a positive body image based on a realistic assessment of your body, an acceptance of it and a recognition that it is only part of who you are. “I know I have short legs, but they are well shaped. And they get me where I want to go.”

If you let the comments of your friends and family get to you, they’ll continue to dig at your self-esteem and confidence and may even lead to anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

What do you say to your daughter about body image?

It doesn’t matter whether it’s positive or negative, every comment you make adds to the confusion. It’s better to say nothing. Instead, let your behavior do the talking.

If you’ve struggled with excess weight all your life, this may be difficult. Remember that your daughter will take note of your string of unsuccessful diets and your reaction to fats or carbs. “Don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter,” is the way one writer puts it.

Focus, instead, on modeling positive eating patterns – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy snacks. Again, there’s no need to talk. Just keep your pantry stocked with healthy foods rather than chips and sugary drinks. Food should be seen as enjoyable and a chance to socialize with family and friends.

The other part of the formula is regular exercise. Whether it’s running, walking, swimming, or cycling, be a role model rather than an advocate. Exercise because you enjoy it. While your personal goal may include losing weight, keep the body issues in the background and focus on building confidence and self-esteem.

Helping Your Daughter Celebrate Herself

You can’t deny or ignore the pressures that come from the media. Teasing and bullying by classmates, either in person or online, shouldn’t be tolerated. Keep in touch with your children’s school and encourage enforcement of policies against harassment, teasing and name calling.

Your daughter should realize that an increase of body fat is normal during puberty just before the growth spurt. It is an important part of normal development. She should realize that the body changes taking place at this time are wondrous. What she sees in the mirror isn’t a collection of “great” or “ugly” legs, thighs, bottom or breasts, but a unique beauty that represents who she is as a person.


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