In today’s society where cyberbullying is rife, and given the indisputable influence of body image in our society through the media, it’s tough being the parent of daughters. How do I help my daughters to have a positive body image?
Like all parents, I worry about my children. Will they be bullied? Will they stay away from drugs? Will they have a happy life? Will they have a good career? Will they find the right person to be with? Will they get good exam results? Will they suffer from bulimia or anorexia? Will they grow up with happy memories of family life? Will they die young? Will they be active and healthy? Will they have boyfriends who’ll coerce or force them into sex before they’re ready?
It’s normal to worry about your children. To want the best for them. To want them to have more (or less) than you had. To experience life differently to you. Depending on our upbringing, our worries and concerns about specific issues will be greater or less. It’s normal for your worries and fears to be illogical. That’s what being a parent is about.
For me, what is most important is that my girls have happy childhood memories. Given we live in a London suburb, I can’t help but worry about guns, knives, drugs, bullying … However I also recognise that my girls are sensible. They have loving parents. They are bright and doing well at school. They seem to have common sense. But don’t we all have memories and tales from our teenage years – of escapades and adventures that we wouldn’t want our own parents to know about? (Please say that’s not just me!) Common sense and intelligence is not enough. I know that. It didn’t stop me going off the rails for a while.
Already at the age of 8, one of my girls was worrying about being ‘too fat’. She’s most definitely not fat. At that age, she still had the round tummy of a child as opposed to the flatness of her older sister. But fat? Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me. I was shocked that at the age of 8, I was already needing to encourage her to have a positive body image. And it got me thinking … what am I doing or saying (or not doing/saying) to help her have a positive body image?
If you read my blogs regularly or if you are on my weekly mailing list, you’ll know that I’m an active healthy woman. I run, I cycle, and I dance. I don’t have weight issues. I don’t have eating issues. I belong to a running club. I used to race on the bike. I have a place in the London marathon. But even so, as a woman, I am critical of my own body image and my appearance. I am super conscious of it … but sometimes the words “I’m so fat” blurt out of my mouth before I’ve had a chance to engage brain. When I complain of being fat, I mean I’m a couple of pounds heavier than I could be for racing. I mean that my jeans are feeling a bit tight. I mean that those size 8 cropped running tights are a bit of a squeeze to get on. (Now don’t lambast me for not having weight/food issues – I’ve had other self-worth issues in the past, I can assure you).
As a breastfeeding counsellor, I’m no stranger to breasts and supporting women in the early days after birth when they are often feeling most vulnerable.
I want to believe that I am a positive role model to my girls – they see both Mum and Dad doing regular physical exercise. We eat fruit after dinner (occasionally if we forget to offer, they complain ‘what about fruit?’). We do eat dessert and cake but not every day and not even every week. I am a ‘harsh woman’ (their words) when it comes to how much chocolate, sweets and icecream they’re allowed to have. They see (and help) us make dinner from scratch most evenings. We’ll have the occasional bag of fish & chips, or a takeaway to celebrate a birthday.
They see that their Mum and Dad have a warm and loving relationship. They know he gets cross with me for
‘nagging’ reminding him about ‘stuff’ but they also see that we still kiss and hold hands, and that we are kind and gentle towards each other.
I can’t protect them from society but I can give them tools and strategies. I can help them to feel powerful and confident. To know how to say no, and that no means no. To trust and respect their own bodies.
As a mum myself, I want to help my daughters to have a positive body image. Three of the interviews at my January online conference will help me to tackle this challenge.
Join me when I interview Laura Dodsworth, author of Bare Reality. For two years, she photographed and interviewed women about their breasts, bodies and lives. I’m delighted she’s agreed to be part of the conference.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Holli Rubin, a Body Image Specialist, and we discussed how we see and experience our bodies affects how we feel about ourselves. This was a fascinating interview and really made me stop and think about what I was saying or doing in front of my children and how that might affect their own body image. I’m very excited to talk to Holli again, especially as my teenage daughter is getting older.
And the final piece in helping our daughters to have a positive body image, is to do with our own emotional intelligence and resilience. I’m loving the prospect of discussing how I can help my girls develop the skills to understand and manage their feelings and emotions with Elizabeth O’Shea, known as The Happy Childhood Expert.
Such a big topic, I’m pretty sure that these interviews may well leave with even more questions, however I know this will be a fabulous start to help my daughters to have a positive body image.
I’d love your thoughts on what else I can do. And why not join me for the interviews with Laura, Holli, and Elizabeth. Register for the conference here.