Today, while in the women's locker room at the gym, I observed a young lady talking to herself in the mirror (or so it seemed). Her words made me sad, but what truly broke my heart was when I realised she was talking not to herself, but to her unborn baby.
"Mommy has a fat belly. Mommy needs to take a picture of this gross, fat belly."
The weight that I felt after witnessing this conversation sank me. This child hasn't even been introduced to the world yet, but he/she is already being introduced to moms personal body shaming and poor body image.
And while most of us probably don't think twice about making an off-the-cuff remark about not having dessert because, "I'm trying to lose 5 pounds" or "those calories will go straight to my thighs", or choosing another outfit in our closet because, "that one makes me look fat" or because, "nothing can hide this belly"...we forget that these words have power. Lasting power. When we say these things - and I'm not even talking about the vulgar language we use inside of our own heads - what must our children think? What are they learning from us?
A study at Harvard Medical School found that a mothers concerns about her own body weight are a leading cause of body image problems in adolescents. The same study reported that the more a mother was concerned about her own weight, the more likely she was to pass these attitudes onto her children. Similar studies have been conducted using fathers and sons and unsurprisingly, the results are the same.
So, does this mean you can never mind your weight or focus on self improvement without permanently damaging your children!? No, of course not. But are our children watching us try liquid diets, cleanses and other overly restrictive diets and exercise regimens to achieve some sort of fleeting body satisfaction? Or are they watching us take care of our health - inside and out - physical and mental - in a progressive and sustainable way? Are our children hearing us criticise every calorie and excess pound? Or are they listening to us celebrate the successes and praise our bodies for what they can do? Eating well, moving often and affirming that no matter what our weight (or how big our bellies) that we are enough, that right there is an invaluable lesson.
I am not a mother and certainly not an expert on parenting, but all of this got me thinking...how we speak to our children about their bodies is important, yes, but could it be that how we speak to ourselves about our bodies when our children are watching (or when we think no one is watching) is even more important?
Body positivity, body image, body confidence...these are really hard issues. Many of which I see as sticking points - trouble spots - for a majority of my clients. Living in a world where image is everything makes it really hard to be a real person with bumps and jiggle, scars, love handles and extra fluff. Is being healthy important? ABSOLUTELY! But when we say, "I want to be healthy" are we talking about mental health, or just the physical? Because I would argue that how we feel and talk about our bodies is just as important as what we put in them.
This post is not meant to single you out, but to call for a culture change. Instead of being so consumed by the criticism, let's change the conversation around body image. Let's praise our bodies and the bodies of our children for what they can do rather than what they look like. Let's allow for open discussion about eating well and exercising, but choose not to directly correlate these positive behaviors with weight gain or weight loss. And above all, let's remember that what we say to ourselves is heard (and potentially someday practiced) by our children and those around us. Let's be the example.
Because, mom, you are enough. Mommy is strong. Mommy is making positive changes.
Eat Well. Live Well. Be Well.