Monday, August 11, 2014

Your child's positive body image starts with you

Another day, another article about a young woman suffering from low self-esteem and body dysmorphia. It's tough to read as a parent because it makes me sick to think about my child going through those issues. It's such a different world than when I grew up. I'm sure people made fun of my looks in school, but it wasn't posted all over the internet and I was never bullied by strangers. I didn't look at photos of thigh gaps or implants and think yes; yes that's what I need to be complete. And yet, all these kids are obsessed with fitting a cookie cutter mold. Or did it used to be like that and I was simply out of the loop? That wouldn't surprise me.

So this particular article was about a celebrity's child who grew up in the spotlight. At 20, her body has been starved and manipulated. Her mind has been broken from hateful comments starting at the early age of 13 - way too young to have people (adults, no less) criticizing your appearance. And while a lot of the blame goes onto strangers, others speculate that her mom may have been a poor influence. Famous in her own right, she's had a troubled past riddled with cocaine benders and lots of plastic surgery. To her credit, her daughter said she said all the right things, but they rang hollow. Her actions spoke louder than words. Insecurity breeds insecurity.

Whether it's fair to blame her mom or not, it got me to thinking.

Like most parents (all parents?), I WANT to be a huge influence on my child's life. I want to help shape the way he sees the world. I want him to inherit my morals and values (and Nate's, of course). I want him to be confident and self-assured. And I want him to take me seriously. If we have a daughter, I would want the same for her (everyone has body issues, but girls seem to have it worse, don't they?). But I don't want to inadvertently pass along my insecurities. So what do I need to do to make sure I give him the foundation he needs?

As Michael Jackson would say, I'm starting with the man (woman) in the mirror. Everyone has insecurities when it comes to their body ("I don't" - you, "Liar" - me). That's not to say you're so upset about it that you've taken drastic measures like starving yourself, but to say there are things that you'd change if you could. Like I'm OK with my post-baby stomach, but if well defined abs showed up overnight, I wouldn't cry about it. Anyway, I've decided to make a pledge to myself that whenever I have ones of those days where I'm not happy with my body, I won't mention it to my kid. I won't walk around saying I shouldn't have eaten XYZ because now I feel fat. I won't complain about how my skin won't tan (it's an Irish curse) and how tan people are so much prettier (it's really in the eye of the beholder, don't you think?). I won't run out and get botox because I've had some wrinkles show up and I don't want to look old. I will not live on lettuce and carrots or yo-yo diet because I'm watching my weight. I will not put my insecurities on my child. I. Will. Not. Do. It.

Likewise, I'm going to be very careful about how I phrase things going forward. Words are used to make people feel things. You can try to tell me that words don't mean anything if you don't let them, but I'm here to tell you they matter. Especially when the words are coming from your parents. And I've heard some pretty cruel things from parents (not mine) over the years. Shaming my child in public or private about his appearance is a non-starter. I'm all about educating him about healthy eating, clean living and physical fitness. But not about shaming. I'm a firm believer that almost everything is OK in moderation. A box of cookies at one time is not cool. A couple of cookies here and there is fine. I want my kid to experience life, not be afraid to live it because of what others might say.

So who is with me? Make a pledge to yourself and your kids that you'll build them up, not tear them down. That you won't put your insecurities on them. That you won't make offhand remarks about looking fat today (because sometimes I don't even think people realize they do it). That you'll practice healthy, clean living but still make room for cupcakes. And for the love, please don't let your kid get plastic surgery to look like Justin Bieber (I'm looking at you Botched guy).


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