As mother to two girls (six and three), I am increasingly aware of the words and terms I use around them when it comes to body image.
Like any girl at their age, they love unicorns and fairies; they also love watching YouTube videos at the weekend when they are allowed to have the iPad.
They are obsessed with JoJo Siwa. She sings catchy songs and wears giant bows on her head. It’s all about how she looks, acts and sings. You can’t stop girls being fixated on the so called ‘prettiness’ of the false world they buy into.
Of course neither of them have a phone but last week my daughter drew an iPhone on a piece of paper; she included apps like Snapchat (which I don’t even have!), she then cut it out and pretended she had her own phone.
Even though it wasn’t real, she is six years old and I watched as she practiced taking selfies with a piece of paper.
Once again, I don’t ever take selfies but in every TV show, and even cartoons, selfies are a huge part of her world despite the fact that she doesn’t own a phone.
We can’t ignore the fact that we are raising children in a self-obsessed age. The other day my three year old wrote her name for the first time. I told her she was so clever to which she replied; “I’m not clever mom, I’m pretty.”
I once again said; “Amy, you have just written your name, that is amazing and being clever is awesome. You are clever.” She screamed; “STOP SAYING THAT! I’M PRETTY NOT CLEVER, I WANT TO BE PRETTY!”
Now, as much as I realise that arguing with a three year old is futile, it really annoyed me; to the point where I refused to call her pretty, and then stressed about the fact that I could be causing long-term psychological damage to her internal mind.
Queue a flash forward of me arguing with a stroppy teen in a counsellors office, with Amy explaining when the eating disorder began; “When I was three, my mom never told me I was pretty. She would only ever call me clever. That’s when I started to think maybe I am really ugly.”
Oh Lord! We are raising kids in a self-obsessed age at a time when, in many respects, parenting is the hardest it’s ever been.
What to do?
When it comes to body image and body positivity we need to be really careful about what we say around our children. They are sponges, soaking it all up. Even when we think we are having a conversation among adults, know that they are there in the background taking it all in. It’s easy to fall into the trap of moaning about your weight, focusing on all the things we want to change about how we look.
How can we then turn to our children like hypocrites and tell them looks don’t matter? When everything we say and do is telling them the opposite.
If you are having what you think is a fat day, keep it to yourself. Show your kids your stretch-marks, tell them every scar and every mark is testament to a life well lived. Tell them the things that make them different are the things that make them unique and special.
I am like everyone else; I look at the Daily Mail, scroll through pictures of celebrities and envy their so-called perfect existence and posterior. Even though I am a fully grown adult and aware that most of it is photo-shopped, most of them have a personal trainer/dietician/nanny, I still compare myself to them and still end up feeling like crap about myself.
Despite us being intelligent beings we are not immune to being shallow depending on the day and how we are feeling. We are human. All I can do is to try my best to keep it simple for as long as I can. Do my best to instill in my girls a core belief that who they are is enough, regardless of weight and looks.
Who they are is enough.
If they are self-confident, not in a cocky way, but have an inner strength that will help them through the awkward teenage years when their body changes and they become more and more self-conscious, we can only hope that they surround themselves with people who big them up and don’t drag them down.
All I can do is hope that as they get older they enjoy team sports or any sport where they will learn resilience and where they will realise looks won’t make you fitter or faster. Hard work and determination will get you where you want to go.
It is a scary world out there and I don’t envy them but what I can do is make sure they have a safe, secure home to come to and vent whenever they are feeling bad about themselves.