A few weeks ago, a reporter from KOLO News contacted me through the Reno Moms Blog, asking if I would do an interview on whether the media and marketers are forcing our girls to grow up too fast. You can see the news piece here.
Are there inappropriate images being targeted at our kids? Yes.
Are there inappropriate items of clothing being marketed to our girls? Yes.
The more I talked to the reporter about my views on these issues, though, the more convinced I was that my presence as a role model was way more powerful than the images society is trying to sell my daughter. I want to prepare my daughter for the influence of the media by instilling a healthy self image and by teaching her a much more powerful definition of beauty.
It is my goal to have my daughter’s self image to be fueled by a body image based on being healthy and strong, and a self esteem based on her personality strengths and how kind she is to others.
One of the ways I plan to do this is by stopping the cycle of negative body image. I have had a negative body image for most of my life. So have my mom and most of my friends. I went on my first diet at 11 years old, and I have been on and off diets for the rest of my life. I have tried Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach, Whole 30 and Eating Clean. I met with a nutritionist once that said this repetitive dieting starting at such a young age has jacked up my metabolism. In other words, my weight has always been a focus and my nemesis. So much of my focus and effort has been wasted on improving my body. I wonder — what else could I have accomplished if I had been focused on something more productive?
When I had a daughter, I made the conscious decision that I didn’t want her to have to live with body image issues. I chose to be very strategic about how I talk about my body and beauty with her with the goal of stopping this cycle for her.
My first principle is that I never talk negative about my body or mention dieting in front of my daughter. EVER. If she happens to catch me stepping out of the shower and looking at myself in the mirror, I do not tell her the thoughts I’m having about those body parts that bother me. If I decide to start watching what I’m eating more (a.k.a. a diet), I will tell her that I am doing it to focus on being healthy by eating healthy foods. The entire conversation about body with her is around health and strength.
I set an example for my family with healthy eating and home cooking. My kids see me eat a ton of fruits, vegetables and protein, drink only water or coffee and tea (and wine as my special treat!). When we sit down to family meals, we talk about the food… Why is it healthy? What does it do for our bodies?
I talk to them about sugar and processed foods, focusing on how they are like a poison to our bodies. They may taste good, and we may choose to eat them for a special treat, but the foundation of our nutrition needs to be based in natural “grow foods.”
My second principle is to set an example by dedicating myself to an active lifestyle. I talk to my kids about my workouts and how they are an important part of staying strong and healthy. When they ask why I eat healthy and workout, I remind them it is because I want to live a long, healthy life with them. I would never tell them that it is because I want to look better or fit into a smaller size of clothes.
When I take my daughter to swim team, I change with her in the locker room and I swim laps while she is with her team. I walk confidently across the deck without covering up my 30-something-post-two-children body. When we are changing and showering afterwards, I’m right there next to her, stripping out of my swimsuit and changing like there is nothing to be ashamed of. BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. I see mothers in the locker rooms ushering their daughters into a corner and holding up a towel or sending them to a changing stall so that no one can see them naked. I know they are doing this in the name of modesty, but it is my opinion that they are sending the message that the naked female body even in the presence of all girls/women is a thing to be ashamed of.
When I take my daughter to ski team, I’m suited up in my ski clothes and she sees me enjoy hitting the slopes just as much as she does. You will rarely catch me sitting in the bleachers at the pool or in the lodge at the ski resort. I want my children to see that I fully believe in the active lifestyle that I am teaching and encouraging.
When we plan our weekends together, the conversation always starts with what fun thing can we do that will give us exercise. Depending on the season, that may be skiing, sledding, swimming, hiking or biking. If they want to go to EZ Air, I will put on my sports bra and bounce for an hour right next to them. Not only is it a great workout, it is a ton of fun as well! I try to make sure we do some active activity together each weekend day. After dinner in the summers, you’ll often see us heading out on a walk or a bike ride.
I also participate in some fun runs and open water swims. My daughter will ask me if I won, and I will remind her that I do these things because I like to challenge myself and make my body strong, but I also enjoy these activities as well. The focus for me isn’t winning, because Lord knows I can’t keep up with the really skinny athletes out there (but I’d never tell HER that!).
My third principle is changing the definition of beauty. I try not to simply tell my daughter that “she is beautiful”. Sometimes, it just slips out, because as her mother, of course I think she is amazingly beautiful. But I like to follow that up with, “you know why you’re beautiful? I can see the love sparkling in your eyes,” or, ” I can see the kindness in your smile.” Sometimes, I call out positive things that she has done as beautiful, tying the definition of beauty to love and kindness and not physical traits.
I view these principles as a way to lay the foundation of her self esteem. When she starts to see more of the media’s images of beauty, I will sit her down and show her the difference between a digitally enhanced photo and a real woman. It is my goal that when she does start to consume more marketing messages, she will have the personal strength and confidence to look at those messages with a discerning eye. I also envision that when her peers start talking about other people as “fat” or “ugly,” she will step in and educate her peers on the true definition of beauty.
As a final thought, I have a son, too, whom I haven’t mentioned in this post. Of course, the conversation with boys is culturally different. The issue of negative body images isn’t as prevalent for boys. My son is a witness to all I mentioned above, and as he gets older, I also want to ensure he has the same beliefs about beauty. I was once at a friend’s house where the father was asking his son to rate girls in his class from 1-10 on a scale of hotness. I use this as an example of how I don’t plan to have the conversation of beauty go in my house. When he starts being interested in girls, I am going to question him on the girls’ interests and how they treat people. It is my goal to raise him to stand up to people who are labeling others as “fat” or “ugly,” and for him to set an example of being kind, healthy and strong.
And now, I will step off of my soap-box. I know that there are many things that will be out my control as my children grow older, but this is my approach for now.
Control the conversation. Be the example.