Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Lessons we teach our daughters

I saw an interesting discussion on tv yesterday about how we teach our children about body image from the moment they pop out. It turns out that us parents have to take a large part of the responsibility for teaching our daughters to hate their bodies.

The debate about how much the media influences young children's views of themselves has been around for years. The startling statistics that show more and more young children are being diagnosed with eating disorders and other psychological body disorders just reignites it. But still, it's scary to think children a young as 3 years old are refusing to eat for fear of becoming fat.

This discussion made some interesting points about the role both parents and the media play in creating these beliefs within young children.

First off, from the minute a baby arrives, they hear about weight. Mothers are normally lamenting about their post-baby body and weight and their inability to shift it. These babies grow up listening to this negative talk and seeing their mothers continue obsession with their scales. 

This teaches the children to be obsessed with their bodies and the scales, to hate themselves when they don't achieve what they should, to base their happiness on an arbitrary number, to judge themselves harshly and only see their value based on their looks. It also teaches them to develop an unhealthy relationship with food - instead of using it for nourishment and enjoyment, it is seen as something evil and to be meticulously watched.

I was very wary of this happening to Sticky which is why I put my scales away months ago. I don't remember the last time I weighed myself. I put them away because I was becoming obsessed - worried about how quickly I WASN'T loosing weight, or hating the fact my pants wouldn't fit. I knew I was heading somewhere I didn't want to go so I stopped it. 

I make sure I cook and eat in front of Sticky. I show her my enjoyment for preparing food and eating it. I am teaching her about portion control, healthy foods, "sometimes" foods and special treats. I take her walking and comment on how much fun it is to exercise and get fresh air. I am teaching her a healthy appreciation for food and exercise and that they can be enjoyed and not feared. 

If she's going to develop some kind of body issue, it won't come from me! Disney on the other hand may play a role.

The other interesting part of this discussion was about the movie Frozen. I haven't seen it so I can't comment too much on it but it sounds like a typical Disney movie - the main heroine is a thin, ridiculously proportioned woman who has some kind of insecurity she has to overcome. Then there's the dowdy, funny yet quirky sidekick that plays the back seat to the beautiful one.

The point they were making was this enormously popular movie is creating unrealistic stereotypes for young girls. I question this - when did we stop thinking our kids were smart enough to tell the difference between fact and fiction? I have no doubt that these movies can portray those stereotypes, but again, it's up to us as parents to talk to our kids about what they're seeing.

If we are saying, "Oh, isn't Elsa the most beautiful woman in the world and luckily she's that beautiful or she would never have accomplished anything" then yes, we are sentencing our children to years of therapy. If we talk to them about how she was scared but had to be brave, or how lucky she was to have a good friend, or how hard she tried or how she refused to take no for an answer, then we are developing confident and proactive children.

It is our jobs as parents to educate our children. To instill in them the values and beliefs we have for them. To help them realise their true potential. To build them up and make them resilient. To teach them the difference between reality and make believe. To let them fall and pick themselves back up. To be brave enough to give things a try. And just to be happy and content children that don't have to worry about what they weigh. 

I may sound a little conceited but I think I'm the only one who can do that for Sticky. Disney ain't got nothing on me!    

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