Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fighting the Body Image Battle for Our Daughters

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My mom hated her birthdays. She did not like to have birthdays and didn't like to be celebrated. I remember her crying many years. Why, you may wonder? Did some tragedy befall her birthday? No. She did not like aging. She simply did not like getting older; she didn't like wrinkles and gray hair and everything else "one year older" meant. 

And yet, there is nothing simple about that. A birthday is a day that should be celebrated! Instead it was a day of mourning. Why?

My mom also often spoke about how fat she was. She has never been fat by any stretch of the imagination, but that surely taught me what "fat" looked like. My husband also grew up with a mother who was no where near fat and yet spoke of how fat she was. He also grew up with a father talking about how fat HE was. The first time our mothers met, they spent some time with each talking about how fat she was while the other declared that no, it was she who was fat. First time. My husband's sisters frequently discuss how "fat" they are. Our last family reunion with them, the conversation was about 90% on calorie counting, calorie burning, and losing weight. 

Even as a child, I hated the "fat" talk. I didn't want to hear it. That didn't mean it didn't affect me. I certainly had and have my issues because of the example before me. Was it a thing of that generation? I swear talking about how fat you were was a common as talking about the weather. I don't see that kind of talk among the moms I associate with now. 

But that doesn't mean our body image is where it should be, and that doesn't mean our daughters aren't insecure about their own bodies. 

Gilda Radner shared this story in her book It's Always Something:
“When I was little, my nurse Dibby’s cousin had a dog, just a mutt, and the dog was pregnant.  I don’t know how long dogs are pregnant, but she was due to have her puppies in about a week.  She was out in the yard one day and got in the way of the lawnmower and her two hind legs got cut off. They rushed her to the vet and he said, ‘I can sew her up, or you can put her to sleep in you want, but the puppies are okay.  She’ll be able to deliver the puppies.’ 
Dibby’s cousin said, ‘Keep her alive.’
So the vet sewed up her backside and over the next week the dog learned to walk.
She didn’t spend any time worrying, she just learned to walk by taking two steps in the front and flipping  up her backside, and then taking two steps and flipping up her backside again. She gave birth to six little puppies, all in perfect health.  She nursed them and then weaned them. And when they learned to walk, they all walked like her.”
Girls behave like their mothers. Your daughters will watch your response to the messages on body image and respond in kind. They will learn to respond just like you do. 

Ask yourself, "Do I want my daughter to view her body the way I view mine? Do I want her to have the same body image I do?"

We moms are usually far more motivated to do things for the sake of our children than for the sake of ourselves. We need to battle body image for not only ourselves, but for the sake of our children. The messages out there aren't only hurting us, they are hurting our daughters. Time for mama bear to come out and fight back. Fight to protect our daughters. 

If you want to fight the body image battle for your daughters and with your daughters, you must first fix yourself. "Do you have something to say that will counteract the voices of the world? Or are you too busy buying into those voices yourself?" (Body Image Breakthrough, page 122). 

Try to grasp and understand what a gift your body is. The body is truly amazing. My husband is an engineer who designs new body parts (like knees and shoulders) as well as the tools used to insert those parts. He is always marveling at what the body is capable of. Not only how complicated it is to try to replicate something in the body, but how well the body endures the carpentry of orthopedic surgery and how quickly the body heals itself. If you don't appreciate the body, educate yourself on the amazing miracle that it is. 

If you do not appreciate your body and you are a prayer, pray for help to love and appreciate your body for what it is. 

Think of the many things you are able to do with your body. 

Once you appreciate the body, you will be able to pass that appreciation on to your children.

You also need to acknowledge the lies you have accepted in life. What messages have you
embraced and let into your mind? Do you believe your body type is wrong? Are you striving for an ideal you really could never achieve? Are you too short or too tall? Maybe just somewhere in the boring middle? Is your hair the wrong color or texture? Eyes the wrong shape? Legs too short? 

There have been fantastic strides and efforts toward helping women have a healthier body image. Some celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis have made a point to show themselves as untouched and unedited. Dove has its campaign for real beauty. A couple of years ago, Colbie Caillat release her song and video "Try." Just this week, Meghan Trainor removed her newest music video after seeing she had been photo shopped. Steps and efforts are being made. 

But we aren't out of the woods.

My daughters do not watch television with commercials. The only magazine we have is our church magazine. I have tried very hard to shelter them from the "I'm fat" comments I grew up with. I have not successfully eliminated the talk from my mother and mother-in-law, but it is much less than what I was exposed to. I monitor myself in how I talk about myself. 

But somehow, the message still makes it to my girls. My nine year old recently asked me if she was fat. My 7 year old says she never wants to have children because she doesn't want her tummy to get fat. 

We are making great strides, but we haven't arrived. I don't, in all honesty, ever believe we will. The body is too amazing of a gift for it to be left alone. But I do think we can do our best to improve things. 

We need to be sure we are living healthy lifestyles. We will have an easier time liking our bodies if we are taking care of our bodies. I am not suggesting we go on an all-sugar and processed foods diet and say, "Who cares! I love me for me!" THAT isn't you. You is your natural body type and shape. You isn't letting yourself go completely. 

Part of loving our bodies is taking care of them. That is one reason I exercise 5-6 days a week. Exercise was not a "get the weight off" ploy for me. I didn't want my girls to think exercise was only there for losing weight. I didn't want the focus to be weight. I wanted the focus to be health, strength, and endurance. 

The same goes for eating healthy foods. We eat healthy foods and monitor sugary foods for taking care of our bodies. We want to take care of our bodies in a long-term way. Yes, we still have dessert and treats. But we don't overindulge constantly and we make sure we have our other food groups. 

And in this pursuit of living a healthy lifestyle, we always have to be careful it doesn't become our idol. That is putting the body back on our main focus status. We need to keep our source of comfort and peace coming from the right sources. Do not rely on your body for happiness or peace. 

Embrace reality. When you have a baby, it does things to your body! That is real life. When you get older, it changes your body. Acknowledge the changes and accept it as real life. Keep your speaking with your girls about that reality positive and real. But again, you have to believe it yourself. Yes, you lost that flat(ish) tummy when you had your child. Would you trade it? No. Can that be changed? No. 

I wish I could say I have the all the right answers for this battle. For now, I am trying to limit the exposure my girls get to the messages of how skinny and flawless they need to look. I am trying to be a good example of healthy living and teaching them to live in a healthy way. 

After pondering this topic, there are things I want to do better at. I want to do more talking with my girls about their views on their body. I want to have it be an open conversation that can happen anytime and not respond with just "Oh you are beautiful the way you are!" I want to help teach them to work to love themselves for how they are and to not turn to their looks (or food or exercise)for a source of comfort. 

I know my mom did the best she could on the body image front and I hope to do the best I can and I hope to make improvements upon what was taught to my generation about the way we looked. I want to be counted among the people who are making a positive difference in the body image battle. My greatest hope for impact is upon my girls, and upon myself. 

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Sarah said...

I don't have time for a longer reply with all my feelings, but wanted to tell youTHANK YOU. This is wonderful, thoughtful, important and appreciated.

Sara said...

Bravo! Great post. Love it!

Valerie Plowman said...

Thank you Sarah and Sara!


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