Saturday, July 26, 2008

Thoughts on Maintaining a Positive Body Image

Dove has a commercial that addresses female body image through a young girl being bombarded with TV commercials, billboards and magazines featuring stick-thin models. Then it shows her attending a feel-good Dove seminar with her mother where she states, "I am beautiful." Or something close to that.

For me, this is the most sobering commercial on television. Mainly because it hits close to home. One morning while waiting for her ride to school my nine-year-old had her foot up on the window seat cushion and was pushing the relaxed muscle of her calf. She said, "Look at all this fat." I showed her that it wasn't fat, just relaxed muscle tissue, but she didn't look like she believed me.

That wasn't the first time I've heard my youngest express the belief that she thinks she's fat. But what really worries me is, she's not overweight at all. Not by any stretch of the imagination. What's a mother to do?

I'd like to think that I'm very proactive in combatting unhealthy body image beliefs in my children. In all my weight loss efforts I've tried to talk about my goals as a means to improved health -- not a means to get skinny. There are no forbidden foods at our house. I've discussed the diseases of anorexia and bulimia with my kids too -- even pointed out a family member who has struggled with bulimia. We've discussed how people are built differently and how body shape is not just an outcome of how much you eat. I hope that it's all sinking in.

Despite all I know about keeping a positive body image, I have body image struggles of my own. Here are some things that I do to maintain my grasp on reality and find contentment in my own skin:

Chat with my mom. She's a woman who is large and in charge! We talk about overweight ancestors and laugh about what we can't change. I always come away feeling proud to be her daughter, no matter what my size.

Repeat the mantra, "Not everyone is a giraffe." God loves variety. How disappointed He'd be if a polar bear sighed all the time thinking, "Oh, if I could only have long thin legs like a giraffe." I can't be just like someone else. I'm me, and I'm one of God's precious creations.

Avoid magazines and shows that focus on style/celebrities/superficiality. Really, they're tools of the adversary. He loves it when we focus completely on our physical self to the exclusion of our emotional health and spirituality.

Make a point of acknowledging physical traits I like about myself. My nose. My haircolor. A wonderful spleen.

Put on a LARGE pair of earrings and a smile. No one will even notice my hips.

Go out in public as myself. Sans makeup, pre-shower. Hold my head up and cheerfully greet people who recognize me. I tell myself that they're going to feel so good about themselves in comparison to me. I am making their day!


Science Teacher Mommy said...

Love your new colors, and I especially love these thoughts. I don't know what else you can do for your daughter. I think another thing that is really damaging for girls once they hit about 13 is the idea that self-approval, or even girlfriend approval is not enough. It is so easy to think that if you don't have a bevy of boys hanging around then there is something wrong with you--inside AND out. Even a girl with a lot going for her can take years to get over this: I had my first steady-ish boyfriend just a few months before my mission. He was practically the first boy I'd ever gone out with more than a couple of times. I had roommates who were very cute and dated regularly, though I couldn't see what they REALLY had that I didn't. It could be very discouraging at times; and yet, I learned lessons that I would never have gotten had I bloomed earlier.

And, like you, I'm not entirely "over it" yet. I do better now than in high school:as I get into my thirties it no longer feels like a curse to look five years younger than I am. I also have to admit that some of it is social/competitive (read: prideful)--the way I look now stacks me up better against other 30 somethings with three kids than as an 18 year-old. In addition, my fantastic husband is not stingy with compliments and loves to eat healthy food, leading our family by example.

What doesn't help is a sister who fights tooth and nail to get back to a size 4 after each baby, obsessing about her fatness every step of the way. It is hard to talk to her for more than 10 minutes without some mention of weight. I am sad that she lets her concern for her looks overshadow her other, greater qualities that are sometimes hard to see for all the right clothes and big hair.

Despite having boys, we may have body issues here too. My boys are little. My poor baby is on track to probably be a whopping 5'6". I'm certain, particularly if sports become at all interesting to any of them, that we will have conversations about inner worth and the skewed priorities of the world we live in regarding what people "should" look like.

On youtube, search under "dove evolution" and watch the clip. Amazing. As a side note, I read an article about a guy whose job is to retouch celeb photos, making them "suitable" for magazines. He works on the Dove campaign--he says it is the hardest because he is so restricted by how touched up they can be.

Cathy Adamkiewicz said...

Glad I came across your blog...good thoughts here. I like your advice that we are not all "giraffes" even though we may try to be! Thanks for sharing!

Allie's Antics said...

Very nice post. I agree with everything you said. I think everyone needs a lesson now and then on maintaining a postive image. Just yesterday I went to get my hair done. My new hairdresser offered to blow out my hair straight. I said it would take her an hour, and she did it in fifteen minutes. I loved it, and so many people commented on the change. But today I couldn't wait to wash my hair and get back to my curls. My dear hubby told me that he loved me for my curls. He said he liked the straight hair, but that it just wasn't "me". I was so touched. All today my hair just hurt being straight. It was crying for me to wash it and get back to who I really am. So even though I would LOVE to have beautiful straight hair. I just need to face the fact that I am curly. Thanks for reinforcing my thoughts!

Flashlight Girl said...

Why do we still struggle with this? As an adolescent I constantly compared myself with my friends, my sisters, and the magazine girls. Being an early bloomer didn't help. Despite all of my many blessings, great health being one of them, it is so hard for me go clothes shopping and instead of looking ravishing, looking frumpy, lumpy and just not quite right.

Pamela Hansen (Running with Angels) has a new book called "Finding the Angel within" that I think addresses this issue. My WW leader brought it to a meeting to ask me if I'd read it, but I haven't yet. Maybe she has some wisdom I haven't found yet. Good luck and just know you're not alone in this!

Liz said...

Isn't it a whack alongside the head when one of your kids -- and at that age! -- says something like that? I've done Weight Watchers and have learned, through doing it, that there are no off-limit foods. I try to model good healthy choices and eating habits for my own 3 girls. I hope it works. I'm not sure yet.

This book tackles the body image issue with great humor. It's called "Embracing Your Big Fat Ass" and I think that pretty much says it all! Move over skinny babes -- this book cracks the code on how to permanently change your feelings about your thighs. Give it a try.

And keep staying yourself! I, too, hit the stores without makeup all the time -- and pre-shower, too.

Heidi A. said...

LOVED your comments Christie!
We're not immune -- are we? Being a single woman has made me even more aware of that as many men (on datings sights) say that they want 'drop dead gorgeous' or 'fit' or 'someone who looks just as good in jeans as they do in a little black dress'. It's what we're faced with. It's like a never-ending Jr. High dance.
I wonder if men are as conditioned as to what to look for --- and value -- as women are.
I love the old pioneer photos that give me hope. But, maybe I'm living in the wrong time period. :)

Leslie said...

Love your point of view and your continually witty comments and insight. I will read your blog every day! FYI, our blog (which doesn't get updated as regularly as I would like, nor does it get edited) is
I look forward to chatting!
Leslie Hansen