Sitting in a room with kids, eight and nine year olds, and our conversation turns to body image. These are perfectly “normal” children, with different bodies, hair colour and builds. Yet regardless of what they look like they are very aware of their perceived imperfections. “My thighs are too big,” says one girl typifying the comments.
At the teenage years the dissatisfaction with body image is highly ingrained. Young men and women will easily point out areas which cause them angst and which they wish they could change.
And this worries mums (and dads) a lot. Their child developing an eating disorder is a major concern. They are very conscious of this and make every effort to counter negative feelings from a young age. They aim to provide their kids with a healthy level of self-esteem. So that positive thoughts may counter any self-doubt.
The message they try and impart is to be happy in yourself, to love your body as it is and that every individual is unique and special. That beauty comes from the inside rather than being superficial.
It’s a nice message. But a challenging one as mums (and some dads) are also full of self-doubt about their own body image. As much as they wish they were satisfied in themselves, they too have much dissatisfaction in their own bodies, and especially the toll that child rearing has taken on them.
So it’s a difficult task to convince kids to love themselves when the mums do notalways practice what they preach. And kids are smart enough to notice.
Mums talk about watching their words and being very careful not to express their own self-doubts around their kids. “You have to constantly remind yourself that you are setting an example,” one mum said. “Because I’ve noticed comments coming out of my daughter’s mouth that have simply horrified me, like ‘I’m too fat to wear these jeans,’ and I realised I’ve said that before. And it’s not until that moment that I realised I’ve got to watch what I say.”
Society, of course, isn’t helping any. Some schools, for example, will offer a photo-shopping service for school photos, removing any blemishes and creating the perfect image for austerity.
If we could help mums accept their bodies and view themselves positively it would go a long way to helping their children feel likewise.