Mar 9, 2011

Body Image and Girls

Nana Lizard recently went on a diet; it was the first in her entire life. She's very healthy - eats organic food, non-processed meats, milk straight from the cow (non pasteurized), and loads of supplements. We can't afford all of those luxuries, but we do use organic milk for our daughter. Nana Lizard might be a healthy eater, but she doesn't exercise, nor is she overweight.  This was the first time in my entire life my mom started really watching her food intake, focusing on weight, and following an eating plan.

It made me start to think about body image and the many concerns with the constant attention placed on female physical appearance and the emphasis on being model thin, the media's definition of "beauty". I worry about the inescapable focus on body image, and the issue of beauty in relation to impressionable girls. Is it too early to worry about these topics now?  I often ponder the idea of raising daughters to have a healthy, confident body image without focusing on appearance as the number one.  What is the key to raising self assured children?

My husband and I make a conscious effort to praise kindness or intellect rather than appearance. We attempt to praise sharing or making good decisions or obedience over appearance. This is not to say we never tell our child she is cute or pretty; we do, but at the same time she gets plenty of attention from others, and we try to avoid making discussion on her appearance a priority. I am terrified about the body image mania she will encounter in her tweens and teens and the damage it can potentially cause.  How do we send the right, properly balanced message?

I feature customer creations periodically, where I highlight dresses and skirts you have made.Your children are adorable; I'm always taken aback by the beauty, whether the skin is fair or dark, whether the hair is red or black. Your little ones are striking, and they are all completely different. How do we tell our children that they are worthy, that different is good?
My grandmother never ever told my mom she looked nice, not even on her wedding day. Someone I know told me that when she was pregnant, her mother always discussed her weight gain after doctor visits, nothing else. These situations sadden me. I know moms who incessantly discuss their child's weight or height. They praise or criticize the fact that their child is small or tall, or in a certain percentile. For others, it's a non-issue. Mothers are role models for healthy or unhealthy habits, actions, and thoughts, and it's a big responsibility.

The role we have as mothers in our daughter's long term self assurance or lack thereof is tremendous, but finding a nice balance is much harder than it sounds. How do we balance an healthy emphasis on body image without going too far?  Sometimes we do too much, other times too little. As mothers, we are the first and most influential role model when it comes to our daughters' body image. What type role model are you?

What is your solution, your advice? How do you consciously encourage healthy body image and or self assurance without becoming obsessive? I don't have all the answers, but I certainly am looking. I want my daughter to be confident, and I want her to realize that there are many, many more important things in this world than physical appearance.

How do you tackle this sticky subject especially in light of the fact that we make cute couture for our children?


Rachel said...

My kids are 3 and 1 so they aren't quite to the age where I worry constantly about this yet. I think one thing to be conscious of is to not say you are ugly/fat/wrinkly/whatever about yourself. No matter how positively we talk to our children, I think we forget that they listen to what we say about ourselves just as much.

Laura and Danya said...

My daughter is constantly being praised for her beauty, everywhere we go. Tutus at the store even shower her with gifts as we go through the check out line, It's a bit rediculous. But about a month ago now one of her little friends was having a play date with some of her friends. Most were pagent sisters and then there was Danya. One of the little girls told Danya she was fat. I can't tell you how livid this made me. It made me soo proud though to hear her turn to this little girl and say "No, I'm a gorgeous Barbie" Danya code for what I'm wearing is beautiful and then "Fat is mean I not mean!" It's always amazing to me to see how they process things. Hula helps here, because the women who earn the highest honor in Hula are often quite large, I love Hawaii.

Mama Pea said...

Great question! I think you're on the right track with how you are focusing on things other than her looks. When my daughter says someone at school criticized her outfit, the way she looks, or what she was drawing, I say, "Were you happy with it?" When she (typically) answers, "Yes," I respond, "Then why do you give a hoot about what that person says? All that matters is whether YOU are happy with it." Sadly, she often responds that it's still important to her what her friends thing. I mean, the social stuff is good for helping shape and maintain some really good behaviors, too, so it's not all bad. Striking that healthy balance is really a challenge, isn't it?!

You laid a big guilt trip on me. I am not the best role model for healthy eating. I think I'm a pretty bad role model, in fact. But I'm constantly struggling with it myself! haha!

Mama Pea said...

BTW, I was at my daughter's school today and was reading something the kids wrote (individually)...their stories were hanging in the hall. The story starter was about what they will look like/be like when they are 100 years old. I read my daughter's and it went something like this:

When I am 100 years old, I will have gray hair. I might have a cane. I might be in a wheelchair. It will be hard. I can't wait to be 100 years old.

I thought it was so cute that she saw all these potentially difficult things, but couldn't wait to tackle it. It cracked me up. I thought that was a great demonstration of overcoming the body/self image stuff!

Harmony said...

There are several ways I tackle this myself, and a couple ways my husband tackles it. I'll start with my husbands ways first:
My husband uses other people as a "This is what you aren't allowed to do" sort of image. We'll come across a girl that is wearing shorts that look like they would fit a 5 year old - and she's 15. He makes sure she knows that this is not an acceptable form of attire to us. Also, there have been (unfortunately) several times when we were at McD's and have seen an obese person order a few meals, and large fries, and a couple of desserts, and then proceed to eat all of the food themselves. And he makes sure that eating fast food is alright now and then, but it needs to be done in moderation, and that when it is done that it is beyond not healthy to eat that much food regardless of where it comes from.
I, personally, try to mostly get the point of beauty across through actions. I hardly ever wear make-up, except for special occasions/reasons (and I have great skin typically because of it. I wear make up and hello clogged pores!!), I eat healthy most of the time, but if I want a little yummy junk now and then I eat it, and it's ok. I don't make a big deal out of having something unhealthy periodically. I also exercise on a regular basis. And she knows that I do all of this. And I encourage her to be the same way. Minus the make-up. She knows she's not allowed to wear any aside from performances/competitions (figure skating & dance) until she's a teenager.
Aside from doing these things we have talks about how she perceives her body, and the bodies of others. She's 9 now, but we started these talks a few years ago when she started watching Hannah Montana, and iCarly, and other shows on Disney and Nickelodeon where they seem to seek girls that are ridiculously thin.

Harmony said...

P.S. Sorry that was so long. Maybe I should have just sent an email instead!! haha!