How many times have you looked at yourself in the mirror and complained about your muffin top or love handles as you get dressed for the day? Chances are, you probably do this more often than you realize. But how many times have you stopped yourself from doing so because your child is standing within earshot?
Our children think we are perfect. They love us unconditionally. To them, mommy is the most beautiful woman in the world and she is flawless. So what damage is it doing when we tell anyone willing to listen that we need to go on a diet or that we hate something about our body…and our children are listening?
Believe it or not, we set the stage for body acceptance for our children. They are endlessly bombarded with images of rail-thin celebrities, and messages targeted towards young audiences about dieting. But what is most important is hearing positive body talk in the home.
I learned this lesson the hard way when my oldest daughter was 10 years old and said she needed to go on a diet. My heart sank to my feet. She was perfectly healthy, active in soccer, and just entering the throes of puberty. I’m sure she had no clue what a diet actually entailed but she had heard me say it for years.
She had sat on my bed many times and listened as I picked myself apart, talking to no one in particular and pulling the skin on my thighs back to see what they would look like skinnier. She watched me step on the scale every single day. I had asked her many times if she thought I looked fat in something and she ALWAYS said no.
This is because there was nothing wrong with me in her eyes. I was creating an image for her of what I thought I should look like based on my own insecurities and negative body image. Each time this happened, that image of her perfectly beautiful mom was altered.
So when she came to me, squeezing her non-existent belly rolls, telling me she wanted to lose 10 pounds, it was the most alarming wake-up call I could have received. That was the turning point for me. I knew I needed to stop the negative body talk. I also immediately threw away the scale.
That night, we talked for hours about how her body is changing and how all that matters is how she feels, not how she looks. She was growing, active, and healthy. I apologized to her for all the times she had seen me complaining about my body. I promised I wouldn’t do it anymore.
We agreed that each time one of us had something negative to say about ourselves, we would counter it with two things we loved about ourselves.
While I can’t control what the outside world is telling her, I can control the messages of body acceptance within my household and can remind her daily that she doesn’t need to look like anyone but herself.
Shifting our Focus from Skinny to Strong
The word “diet” no longer exists in our home. I am quick to catch myself saying anything about my appearance in front of my children. My girls are both teenagers now. I think we all remember how difficult those years can be when it comes to self-esteem. Anytime they begin to express dissatisfaction with their appearance, we go back to our main focus; feeling strong, not being skinny.
That same little girl who had begged me to put her on a diet is now 16 years old and is probably the most body confident teen I know. She isn’t starving herself and she isn’t overweight. As a growing teenager, she has taken what the world tells her she needs to look like and put it aside to focus on all the positive things her body can do for her.
In this diet-driven, image-obsessed society, that is the confidence our kids need. It starts with them hearing you say kind things about yourself, not harsh ones, in their very own homes.
Remember that little ears are always listening and your words are so impactful to their lives. So love your bodies and teach them to do the same.