One of the biggest incentives for me to finally learn to love my body was that I have two daughters. They are both beautiful and amazing in every way. So the thought of them hating themselves even for a moment breaks my heart. I want them to grow up knowing they are absolutely perfect. That they are loveable, deserving and worthy of having someone worship them for who they are. I don’t want them to have the self-hatred I’ve had. Or the constant doubt that they’re not good enough for someone to want to be with. Teaching my daughters to love themselves unconditionally, including their bodies, is my goal. But it’s also a huge responsibility.
Our children learn from us. They are observing us right from the start. They listen to what we say. Watch what we do. And see how we treat ourselves or let others treat us. We provide the emotional foundations for their own wellbeing as adults. Which is really scary when you think about it!
Since having my daughters I’ve had to face up to some painful truths. First, I’m a hypocrite. I’ll pull them up if they talk negatively about themselves but I do it all the time. Second, I’m in danger of setting some really bad examples to them when it comes to body positivity. Third, I’ve only got one chance to instil in them the values, beliefs and confidence that I want them to have. So I best not fuck it up.
If you have daughters (or a son – body confidence issues don’t just affect girls) then what you do will impact on them. As women, we tend to have very warped ideas and behaviours around weight, food and dieting that aren’t just going to go away overnight. After all, they’ve been developing over our lifetime. But it’s really (really) important that these don’t get passed down to another generation of girls who are in danger of believing they aren’t good enough if they are not thin.
So here’s the blunt honest truth – you are doing things that will knock your children’s body confidence down from where it could be. I’m as guilty of this as you are. I also get that these things aren’t easy to stop and won’t go away overnight. So rather than lecturing you on why you shouldn’t do them, I’m going to just list them out and politely ask that you keep these a secret from your children.
That you hate your body
Saying that you hate your body in front of your children sends several damaging messages to them. One is that it’s OK to be self-deprecating and to hate the way you are. The other is that your body (whatever type that is) is deserving of hate and isn’t good enough. So if your daughter grows up to have a similar type of figure she will think she should hate it as much as you do.
That you count calories or obsess about food
Restricting what you eat, tracking your calories or labelling foods as good or bad sends a message to your children that we must be careful what we eat otherwise we’ll get fat, which in turn sends the message that being fat is bad and to be avoided. Yo-yo dieting is pretty unhealthy and can lead to a poor relationship with food and your body. It’s much better to focus on intuitive eating and having a healthy, balanced diet instead.
That you talk negatively to yourself
In line with the first one, talking negatively to or about yourself is a big no-no. Even if you think it, keep it to yourself and don’t let your children ever hear you being harsh about the way you are. Talking negatively about yourself doesn’t just let them know that they need to be critical of themselves. It also sends a message that it’s OK for someone to be spoken about like that meaning that they are less likely to stand up for themselves if someone they love talks to them like that too. If this is something you struggle with check out my challenge on how to silence your inner bitch.
That you judge other people’s appearance
Children don’t just pick up when we are being harsh about ourselves. They also pick up when we are harsh about others. And that teaches them something too. So be mindful what you say about other people. Fat shaming, body shaming or just being nasty about someone’s outfit are all behaviours that we wouldn’t want our kids to think are OK. And again, if they think it’s OK to do it to others then they will also think it’s OK if someone does it to them. Be nice about others and your children will learn to expect others to be nice to them too.
That you feel self-conscious
We all have times where we feel self-conscious about our bodies or what we’re wearing. Maybe you’re like me and have a habit of standing in front of the mirror prodding or poking the bits you don’t like. Or you pull at your clothes because you don’t think they quite cover the lumps and bumps. But again, these behaviours are reflecting insecurity and self-doubt. Or that there are parts of your body that you need to be ashamed of and cover-up. If you are self-conscious then chances are your children will learn to be too. If, on the other hand, you love yourself unconditionally then guess what, they will too!
That you weigh yourself
Weighing yourself is a bad idea anyway (read this post on how to separate your self-esteem from your weight). But letting your children know that you weigh yourself regularly (or worse weighing them) is another subtly damaging message for them. It teaches them that weight is important and something that they should worry about. It also teaches them that their weight is a measure of how well they’re doing or how good they are.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t worry about your children’s health but let’s be honest, you can tell if they are an unhealthy size without weighing them so don’t let your children get as obsessed with the number on the scales are most of us are.
Now I’m not saying that you need to be a saint when it comes to your body. I don’t expect you to develop unshakable body confidence overnight that means you simply stop doing all of the above. But I am asking that if you do them please keep them hidden from your children.
The next generation of kids coming through already face more pressure than ever before to conform to unrealistic ideals of beauty. Make sure the messages that they are getting from you are positive so you can help them to build the resilience they need to be able to navigate through life with the body confidence they deserve.