With Mother’s Day this month, I have been rather reflective of my role and responsibility as a mother to my 3 children. Having suffered from a distorted body image and yo-yo dieting since an early age, I was determined to make conscious decisions to teach my children to respect their bodies, trust hunger cues, make healthy food choices and rejoice in their uniqueness.
I considered it a great triumph when my son and a friend were going through our fridge after school and I overheard my son explain, “we don’t have food, we have ingredients.” He knew that snacking was not forbidden—he just needed to be hungry enough to actually prepare something. Rather than mindless munching on pre-prepared processed foods, he became quite adept at making an omelette, quesadilla or fruit smoothie.
But age and experience has taught me a great truth: the intentional lessons we teach our children make up only a small portion of what they learn from us. So much more is learned by what they observe when we don’t realize they are watching. Sadly, while I was teaching my children to love their bodies, I often referred to mine as if it was my mortal enemy, at odds with me amid swimsuit season, during the holidays, and throughout every face off with my full-length mirror.
I suppose it has seemed natural to disparage this enemy, often with a fatalistic humor. Why not? I’ve heard the same phrases from my friends: “Well this cookie is going straight to my thighs.” “Thank goodness for Spanx.” “I just wish I could lose my arm jiggle.” “I could never wear an outfit like that.”
But studies have revealed an important problem with this form of venting – they show that daughters of women who don’t like their bodies are more likely to be dissatisfied with their own. And while you might argue that mothers complaining about their looks is nothing new, the problem is that girls today have their body image under constant attack from countless images that have been perfected and photo shopped to an unreal and unattainable status.
So even in the moment when we feel like we are just venting or even joking, remember that little ears are listening. These ears are developing their own sense of self with you as their example. The world will hand them many frustrations, powerful images and confusing messages. Let’s make our message as mothers clear: the human body is beautiful and remarkable. It is worthy of being fed healthy food and exercised regularly. Each of us is unique and our differences should be celebrated.
It’s time to change the conversation, both with ourselves and with our children. Try “I love that my body can….” or “this dress makes me feel…” For me, I’m celebrating my beach body this season—I have a body and I’m taking it to the beach!