Positive body image

I think the first time that my daughter said something negative about her body was when she was around four or five years old (she compared herself to a close friend of hers and determined that she needed to lose weight). I have talked to other Moms who said that their daughters were around the same age when they expressed dissatisfaction with their bodies.  I would love nothing better than for my daughter to have a positive body image, but sometimes it feels like the cards are stacked against me.

Now that she’s older, she is exposed to body comparisons even more so, as she now finds herself changing into her gym clothes in front of her classmates and going to sleepovers where she’s changing in and out of her pajamas.  Kid’s bodies change at such a different pace and it’s hard for them not to compare themselves to others.  My daughter has even compared herself to me on occasion.

The other day, my daughter came out of the bathroom and announced her weight.  I explained to my daughter (for the umpteenth time), that weight is just a number and that it is much more important that she eat healthy, exercise and take care of herself.  I am not a fan of scales and never weigh myself (other than at annual check-up time), not because I’m concerned about my weight, but rather because I believe the act of weighing yourself on a regular basis gives you a distorted view and causes you to be overly focused on the wrong things (i.e. any number can sound ‘too high’, even if it’s within acceptable parameters).

Everyone’s weight fluctuates throughout the day and a female’s weight fluctuates throughout her monthly cycle, so a pound or two is nothing to be concerned about.   In addition, the number may not accurately reflect what’s going on in your body, for example, you may be losing muscle mass and gaining cellulite, but your weight may be consistent (i.e. these two things are balancing themselves out from a weight perspective).

My philosophy is, any significant change in weight would manifest itself in the form of clothing that was uncomfortable and/or lack of energy.  Unfortunately, my husband has a scale in his bathroom and he and our daughter have weighed themselves from the time she was little (it’s one of those cool digital ones, so it was a ‘fun’ thing to do).  In fairness, I don’t think weight tends to take on the same importance for boys as it does for girls, so it’s hard for my husband to understand why I wish to discourage our daughter from getting in the habit of weighing herself.

Growing up, I followed a pattern whereby I gained weight then eventually grew taller and lost/redistributed the weight.  This resulted in pockets of time when I was ‘chubbier’ and meant that I spent a good portion of my adolescence “watching my weight”.  On the plus side, I learned pretty impressive self-discipline and a decent understanding of healthy eating habits, which have definitely come in handy throughout my adult life.

I think my daughter has inherited my growth pattern, so I am doing my best to teach her the importance of a healthy lifestyle, but it all worked out for me in the end (by the time I stopped growing, I was at the ‘right’ weight for me), so I don’t want her to spend too much time focused on what she weighs now.

This is a very tricky balance to strike for a parent.  Many kids will gain weight as a normal byproduct of puberty, but it is hard not to overreact and start hounding them about their weight.  It is my hope that, when this happens, my daughter rides out the storm by continuing to eat healthy foods and get exercise.  I hope the habits and skills that I’ve taught her since the time she was a toddler, will stand her in good stead throughout her life.  Now all I have to do, is learn how to step back and let her practice these skills for herself (I won’t always be there to tell her what, or how much, to eat).

If you’re interested in raising your children to have a positive body image, you may also wish to read my posts on ‘Real beauty’, ‘Body Image’ and ‘Impact of the media on body image’.