Even if it is hard for you as well...
My daughter started high school this year. Oh, how I remember that freshman year of mine in 1987. Big hair was in, and a shapely body with a tiny waist. I felt the pressure of thinness much earlier than those years but remembering how self-critical I was at that age has me certainly worried for my daughter.
Except this isn’t 1987 and there’s a movement toward body positivity that I find very encouraging. Body Positivity is a phrase used to describe the acceptance and celebration of one’s shape, size, color, and all its unique features — regardless of age and stage in life.
Why aren’t we extending courtesy to ourselves?
It is no longer acceptable to make fat-shaming remarks. It is no longer ok to discriminate against people based on their race or age — not that these things were ever ok, but we are growing as a society into something that is more inclusive of all people.
We know that we shouldn’t criticize others for how they look and that we should treat other people with kindness. All people. We know these things and we try — -but why aren’t we extending that courtesy to ourselves. Why aren’t we showing ourselves the same measure of acceptance that we try to emulate socially?
We look in the mirror and declare, “I’m fat.”
We look in the mirror and declare, “I’m old.”
And we are doing these things in front of our daughters, our sons, and other people that love us. Which brings me to the question of “How can I teach Body Positivity to my daughter if I have not yet learned that lesson for myself?”
When I was her age I relied on my parents, events and conversations at school with my peers or teachers, and music. We didn’t have Cable television in our house so I guess you could add the afternoon sitcoms to the list of social influences I had. Thirteen years of Girl Scouting and more years than that of the Methodist church.
Today our children have You-tube sensations. They are bombarded with images of the beautiful and the perfect. Pop culture is everywhere — magazines, television, Facebook, Instagram — and kids are glued to their smartphones. We’d be crazy to think they aren’t being inundated with images daily that help to form their sense of self-identities.
But it really starts with us.
Body Positivity is a crucial message to add to the mix and if we want it to compete with all the other images, they are receiving then we’d better make it frequent. We can start by eliminating critical talk about ourselves. We can start by speaking to our strengths and challenges and remove the focus of what we look like, how our hair is doing on a given day, or whether or not we are having a “skinny day.”
Growing into Body Positivity
The Positive Psychology website has a great list of directives to help you develop a better body image:
- Focus on your positive qualities, skills, and talents.
- Say positive things to yourself every day (practicing affirmations puts this suggestion to use)
- Avoid negative or berating self-talk
- Focus on appreciating and respecting what your body can do
- Set positive, health-focused goals rather than weight loss-focused goals.
- Admire the beauty of others but avoid comparing yourself to anyone else.
- Remind yourself that many media images are unrealistic and unattainable for the vast majority of people
It is difficult, but worth it.
As a woman in my forties it is no longer a struggle to just accept my weight and shape. I now see a face that is aging and wonder where my eyebrows went and what this weird hair is on my chin. Now, aging has entered the mix.
We can start by eliminating critical talk about ourselves.
It really is hard sometimes to see ourselves in a positive light, but this is a skill that can be learned. Studies show that when people have a positive outlook on life (including self-image) it helps to boost their physical health and they have less heart disease, stroke, cancer, infections and respiratory diseases. Positive self-talk refers to having a healthy internal dialogue that is conducive to a healthy self-esteem. While this skill is easier for some to master than others, it can be learned, practiced, and mastered as a part of a wellness choice we can demonstrate for our children.
Tips for creating Positive Self-Talk
- Try not to zero in on what is “wrong” with you. Nit-picking at your own flaws will teach your children that imperfections are not ok.
- Identify negative self-talk and counter it with a self-affirming statement instead.
- Say positive things about your appearance. For example, “My body is healthy and strong. It helps me do all the things I need to do.” Instead of criticizing your appearance, find something positive to say about yourself.
- Post self-affirming mantras or quotes in areas where you need them (like next to the mirror where you dress for your day.)
If I am diligent enough with my self-talk, I can keep the focus on health-centered goals and self-respect. My daughter tells me every day that I am beautiful. I wonder what a difference it would make if I agreed with her. Warts and all — beautiful. Short and frumpy — beautiful. Wildness for hair — beautiful. With or without makeup — beautiful.
The time for body positivity could not be more important. Take some time to appreciate your body today with all its quirks and flaws and yes even that weird hair on your chin — and celebrate all the positive things your body can do or has been through.
Our children are learning from us and it is up to us, the people that love them, to teach them that they are perfectly wonderful.
Christina Ward is a mom, step-mom, and grandmother. She is also a poet and writer from rural North Carolina.