Our conversations and our feeds are inundated daily with buzzwords and catch-phrases like these. Each one serves up a message of lofty inspiration to today’s woman. However, if you are anything like me, each one is also received with a twinge of guilt and confusion.
They are good goals, which I honestly believe should be a reality for all women. But, goals and reality are often a canyon apart. Who can be 100% positive about their body as a woman in today’s image-obsessed society? As a pregnant mother who’s stretched stomach may never be the same again, how can I achieve body confidence? Who has time for self-care and what does that really mean?! Is it a glass of wine and a pedicure? Or is it a gym membership? Is it a tummy tuck or a boob job or Microneedling? And where is the fine line between accepting our bodies and spending time and resources on costly beauty treatments and procedures?
I don’t know the answers to all these questions. In fact, I’ve been trying to write this blog post for a month and a half and each time I sit down to write, I feel lost. The topic is so broad and the problem is so overwhelming. But I do know one thing: My daughter is watching. And for that single reason, I feel a heavy responsibility to model a healthy body image even if I haven’t quite got it figured out myself.
You know that familiar internal (and sometimes external) dialogue you have with yourself when you are trying on swimsuits or jeans in the fitting room? The endless litany of “I Wishes” and “If Onlies,” lamenting the size of your thighs or the shape of your hips? I know that feeling all too well and it’s ugly. My mission is to find a way to spare my 13 year old daughter from ever looking at her beautiful healthy body in disgust. While I know that is a lofty goal, I am convinced there are some key ways we, as mothers, can help cultivate healthy body confidence in our kids.
Change your vocabulary.
Start by avoiding making comments about physical appearance. Yours included! When your child hears you complain about your shape, your size, even the way your face looks without makeup, he/she begins forming a perspective that values prettiness and thinness over the alternative. Image-themed vocabulary shapes what is viewed as important. When you talk about other people, start describing them by identifiers other than their appearance. For example: “The skinny, pale lady in our neighborhood ,” becomes, “The friendly neighbor who walks her dog in the evenings and keeps a vegetable garden.” Make a conscious effort to avoid commenting on anyone’s size as good or bad. Changing your vocabulary is a hard habit to break, but it’s worth it!
Focus on health.
Specifically in the areas of food and exercise, reframe your thinking to focus on the healthy attributes of an item or activity, rather than the calories or fat burned. Food isn’t good or bad, it’s just fuel. Instead of talking about how candy is high in calories, talk about how there are other healthier choices that have longer lasting energy benefits. In the same vein, when you exercise, don’t mention that you are doing it to lose a few pounds or to burn calories. Always focus on the strength it builds, how healthy it is for your heart and how it makes you feel happier and less stressed. If someone comments that you have lost weight, respond by stating how much healthier you feel now! Same goes for your conversations with others. Focus on health over size.
Really go back to the basics here. Educate your children that uniqueness is beautiful. Emphasize how boring it would be if everyone looked the same. Point out situations that highlight diversity in a positive way and praise the talents of people that don’t adhere to standard beauty ideals. On the opposite end of the spectrum, point out when a movie or show is blatantly highlighting only one type of beauty. Teach your children that the media world is make believe and real life is much more varied and interesting!
Don’t judge what other people do to feel confident.
This is a tough one. It seems we are conditioned to constantly critique and judge each other. The tabloids and the social media articles are obsessive about describing every tiny detail that goes into a celebrities perceived beauty. From temporary treatments like makeup, spray tans and hair color, to more permanent procedures like implants, injections and surgeries; we have more beauty enhancement options than ever before.
The temptation is to judge what methods others use to achieve self-confidence. But the reality is that each person is on their own journey just like you are, and just like your children are. Focus on what YOU need to feel your best and most confident and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. If you have a confident friend who rocks it “au naturale,” than more power to her! Likewise, if you have a confident friend who always wears a full face of makeup, always has her nails and lashes done to perfection and has had several plastic surgeries, more power to her, too! Confidence looks different on everyone.
I am convinced that body confidence and self acceptance start in the home. Let’s be intentional. Let’s lead by example. Let’s break the patterns of our image-obsessed society and turn out a generation of healthy, happy kids that truly love themselves.