Our kids are growing up in a very appearance focused culture. My friend Gayle calls Kardashian Culture; the body image blogosphere calls it Diet Culture. And for those of us living with teenaged girls, you might think you are living in Selfie World. But whatever you want to call it, many of our kids -- especially our daughters -- feel it’s their job to create and manage an image they send out to the world. They need to be camera ready 24/7 for Snapchat.
The pressure on them to create a perfect image of themselves is actually making our kids feel bad about themselves, especially about their bodies. They feel flawed in comparison to other people they see on social media from models to friends.
In doing your job as a parent, the words you choose make a difference. What your kids learn in the years in your home will be their idea of how the world works, maybe forever. With regard to their forming body image, what messages do your kids get about bodies from living under your roof? Your words matter quite a bit; they contain explicit and implicit messages.
All people who battle with body hatred and eating problems, have a story from childhood featuring an insensitive family member who reflected the their body back to them in a negative way. Words matter quite a bit from these stories, and body-comments from childhood seem to stick well into adulthood.
Mom and Dad are their kids’ models on how to relate to their body and how to eat. What do your kids learn from watching you? Research shows that if a mother is dissatisfied with her body, her daughter’s more likely to be dissatisfied with hers.
So, I’m going to ask you to take a loving, but real look in the mirror and look at what’s going on inside you. This isn’t for any kind of judgment or blame -- we’re all trying to do the very best for our kids. This is about figuring out how we can provide our kids with most loving home environment possible around body image.
Teaching your kids how to eat is a big part of teaching them how to take care of themselves. Teaching eating fundamentals when they are young -- the younger the better -- sets the stage for them to manage their eating by themselves each time they walk out your door.
Most American parents don’t teach their kids much about eating. In France, teaching kids how to eat has always been a fundamental of parenting. I discuss this in detail the blog French Lessons. In most US homes meals are haphazard, and nutrition is just a list of food they should be afraid of. This leaves kids with a vacuum or space where knowledge about feeding themselves could be. This gap often gets filled in with our diet culture’s ideas on eating.
Step 4 is all about teaching your children how to feel and deal with their emotions as a part of caring for their whole-selves. Whole-self care is about taking care of your mental health in addition to your physical health. This task will be part of your child's responsibility as they head into adulthood.
Most people are surprised to learn that eating disorders -- which are mental UN-health -- are actually not about food so much. Psychologists tell us they are emotional problems where food is used unconsciously to try to help cope with problems in living. There are hundreds of ways to get to the place where the focus on one’s eating is being used to distract a person from feeling and dealing with their emotional life. So how do we teach kids not to use food for distracting from or coping with their emotions? Step 4 is about teaching them identify and manage their emotions. You can teach them that emotions, even big ones, aren’t as scary as they seem. They’re a normal part of being human.
Number 5 is about modeling self-compassion not self-judgment. Everyone has a voice inside their head that monitors their behavior. This voice is your conscience or if it gets nasty, we call it your inner critic. Are familiar with your inner critic? It likes to gives you a hard time for your behavior and loves the word should, “You should have been more kind,” “You shouldn’t have eaten all those cookies.”
Your inner critic spends a good deal of time blaming you for things and passing judgment on you. It tells you that,“You are not good enough as you are,” “You did something wrong,” and “You should be really embarrassed.”
In Step number 5 we talked about quieting a critical voice inside, now we’re going to help your child engage and listen to another voice inside, a very helpful voice -- intuition. The Voice by Shel Silverstein does a great job describing intuition:
Your intuition is connected to you at the deepest level. It is your judgment for what is right and wrong for you in a given situation. We want our children to stay in touch with their intuition because it acts in their best interest at all times.
Renee Engeln author of Beauty Sick speaks to the heart of my brief last strategy for developing a positive body image when she says:
Women with a positive body image care about how they look. They still want to feel attractive . . .They just don’t hinge most or all of their sense of self worth on whether OTHERS find them attractive.
Not relying on others for their self worth is a big ask in adolescence where our kids just want to fit in with their peers. And, it is a big ask for women, as Paul Campos says in The Diet Myth, “We live in a culture that tells the average American woman dozens of times per day that the shape of her body is the most important thing about her.”