There’s not a woman alive who doesn’t experience a love-hate relationship with her body at times, even if it’s merely fleeting. We all have “fat days” – when how we perceive our bodies doesn’t often equal the image in the mirror. “Wow, you look great!” a loved one might say. “Ugh, really?” you respond, grimacing at yourself in the mirror. “If only I was thinner, bustier and less curvy…” and so the list continues.
And in this pursuit of self-improvement and unattainable perfection, in 2012, Australian women are said to have spent $850 million on modifying their looks and bodies. Australia’s leading organisation for eating disorders and body image, the Butterfly Foundation, says poor body image is significantly linked to dieting. In addition, dieting is the major factor in the development of disordered eating, eating disorders and a significant contributing factor in the development of obesity.
Butterfly Foundation CEO Christine Morgan stressed the critical importance of prevention and early intervention strategies in limiting the development of, and suffering from, negative body image and eating disorders. “Body image is not what we look like – it is how we feel about how we look,” Ms Morgan says. “Someone with positive body image is comfortable in their own skin. Conversely, someone with negative body image is often dissatisfied and fixated on trying to change their actual body shape.
“Unfortunately, in many instances negative body image descends even further and the person suffering from it believes they will not be successful or worthwhile, so long as they have that body shape and size. Pretty heavy stuff for most people; almost unmanageable if those thoughts are striking in the teen or primary school years.”
So, how do we teach our sons and daughters to have a positive body image? How do we, as mothers, curb our own issues so as to help our kids? “There are a number of pressures within our society that can contribute to negative body image and parents need to be mindful of everyday talk at home about food, body shape and self-esteem,” Ms Morgan says. “Children tend to learn more from what parents do than what they say.
“Adulation of physical appearance is a recipe for disaster. When parents talk about their own body images, they are fostering the same beliefs with their children. The strongest and most effective way parents can deliver a balanced and positive message around body image is by role modelling healthy behaviours.’’
Here are some tips on how to be a good body image role model for you and your child:
Love and accept your own body: Being aware of your attitude towards your own body will help you be conscious of the messages you send to your kids. Try to avoid looking in the mirror and making negative comments about the way you look. If your child sees that you feel comfortable and happy with your body, this can help them feel comfortable in their own skin.
Don’t talk about diets: Dieting is the biggest risk factor for an eating disorder. Try to avoid talking about diets, your “naughty” eating habits, or your weight and size. This can give kids the impression that weight and size are highly valued by you and they might feel pressure to look a certain way or be a certain size. Celebrate diversity and emphasise how loved and valued your child is no matter what their weight, shape or size.
Talk to your child: Encourage your child to talk with you about their feelings regarding their bodies. If your child feels safe talking to you, then they are more likely to share feelings about their bodies with you.
By Nicole Carrington-Sima