Have you ever known someone who despite the overwhelming odds against them, has overcome incredible trauma to lead a healthy, happy life? Every once in a while I meet someone like this and I am always in awe. So what's the best recipe for helping your child be resilient in the midst of whatever they face? Research says, it's you!
As we help our kids carefully consume media and other messages, recognize how amazing their bodies are, learn to be the authority on their bodies, and model for them what a healthy body image looks like, we will be helping them gain the confidence to love themselves for more than what they look like.
When I was about seven months old, my mom was in the kitchen, being very busy with the things moms do, when all of a sudden she heard this rousing, belly laughing coming from her bedroom. Because she had never heard anything like that from me, she assumed it was from my sister Mishel, who was two years older. She enjoyed the sound of the laughter so much that she wanted to go see what Mishel was laughing at. When she found the source of the laughter she was so surprised to see that it wasn’t Mishel, but it was me!
So what was I doing at seven months old that was giving me such pure joy in that moment? I had pulled myself up in front of her floor length mirror that was attached to the wall, and was staring at my own gleeful face. I was completely innocent and happy, and LOVED what I saw in the mirror.
Fast forward about 13 years when I was in 8th grade. I went to a junior high with about 1500 students. I felt like a small fish in a big sea. It was a confusing time in life. I was hovering between friend groups with different ideas of what was cool and what wasn’t. I wanted to be liked and wasn’t sure of my identity yet.
Onto that scene comes a boy I’ll call Tony, who decided he couldn’t handle the size of my nose. I knew perfectly well that my nose was bigger than most, but I really hoped it would blend into the crowd. Apparently he wasn’t going to let that happen, because he spent the entire school year making sure that I, and everyone else in his presence, knew that my nose was way too big for my face.
Between classes, when hundreds of students pushed through the crowded halls to their next class, he would yell out over the crowd an announcement that I should get a nose job. It was embarrassing and hurtful.
To make matters worse, over spring break I had an accident that proved how ginormous my nose was! I was at my grandma’s house with my family, and my little brother was being a turd. Because I was older and wiser I took it upon myself to chase him down and make him be obedient to whatever my parents were asking him to do. He took off running and I ran after him, just determined to catch that kid.
Suddenly he decided to run outside, slamming the door behind him. I was hot on his tail, but when I pulled that door open as fast as I could, my nose got in the way and the door about knocked it off my face! It spun me around, and I fell to the floor in a crumpled mess, and that was the end of the chase and my pride.
Within a couple days I found myself having surgery for my broken nose. When I returned to school the next week with a cast on my nose, Tony was so proud of himself because he believed I had taken his advice and gotten a nose job!
It’s hard to believe that is a true story, but I was there, it really happened.
Thankfully I have grown into my nose a bit, but that’s just one example of dissatisfaction I have had with my body over the years.
Appreciating and even loving our bodies takes mindful effort. Because regardless of what we look like, our bodies are full of imperfections that would be easy to focus on. It reminds me of an old Native American story:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. ”It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, discouragement, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, shame, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
So if we feed the wolf that compares ourselves to others, or tells us we are too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, or our nose is too big, that wolf will win, leading us to endless dissatisfaction. If we feed the one that focuses on the beauty and joy that come because of what we are capable of, then we will be astounded at how amazing our bodies are and what we can accomplish with them. This applies to girls and boys, women and men. The wolves do not discriminate.
One of the most common ways that we feed the bad wolf in this digital age, is by consuming unhealthy media. Sometimes we don’t realize how much media is affecting us, but consider this quote by social psychologist Karen E. Dill said: “When we are transported by the world of fiction, our attitudes and beliefs change to be more consistent with ideas and claims that take place within the story. We suspend our disbelief and in so doing, we open ourselves up to absorbing involuntarily the belief system dramatized in the fictional world and to acting on those beliefs and ideas. Many times what we see on the screen provokes a change or a response outside our awareness. This is how the fantasy world of media shapes our realities.”
So if the media we consume doesn’t match our family values, watch out. Those family values may be at risk.
The National Eating Disorders Association reports that one in every 3.8 television commercials conveys an “attractiveness message,” so it’s training viewers about what they should consider attractive. Social media takes it a leap further and even promotes anorexia...using pictures of appallingly thin women as “thinspiration” for girls wanting to lose weight. Boys are also barraged with pictures of the ideal man’s body image which they can’t live up to.
Opal Singleton, author of Seduced, The Grooming of America’s Teenagers said, “Never before in history has there been so much competition to influence your child’s morals, spirituality, sexuality, gender identity, self-image, and decision making. We are at a unique time in the universe where perfectly normal parents hand their child a device that provides literally hundreds of thousands of unknown individuals around the globe access to their child’s ideological formation 24/7…”
So what can we do about it? What media can you cut out? How can we replace unhealthy media consumption with things that strengthen and build relationships with self and others?
And what else can we do to feed that good wolf??
Today I want to share a few ideas on how to recognize and appreciate our amazing bodies, and teach our kids to do the same.
1 - our bodies are amazing
My husband studied medical biology for his bachelor’s degree. I’ll never forget the semester he took his first anatomy class. Every time he went to a lecture or studied his textbook he learned something really cool he wanted to share with me.
I mean isn’t it incredible that, besides being flammable, human hair is virtually indestructible? So it gets split ends and falls out, but it is resistant to acid, temperature changes, and almost doesn’t disintegrate. Hair is a place where our entire genetic code is stored, and even the content of your bloodstream can be found.
Did you know that you use 200 muscles every time you take a single step?
Think about your heart. It is a machine that never stops working. It just pumps out blood (2,000 gallons a day) 24/7/365 for sometimes up to and beyond 100 years! And while it pumps it brings oxygen, heals, protects, and cleanses the tissues in our body.
When you are tempted to criticize your body, think instead of the miracle that it is!! Think about what you’re able to do with your body. Celebrate those abilities! Seriously, make a list, and have a party!
Beauty Redefined is a nonprofit founded to promote positive body image. The founders, Lindsay and Lexie Kite actually sell tshirts that say, “My Body is an instrument, not an ornament.” I love that thought! Everywhere we look media is telling us how we should look, but what does looking a certain way even accomplish? Are we meant to hang and admire on a Christmas tree? No! We are not ornaments, we are instruments!
So what kind of music will you play with your instrument???
2 - Know yourself - Another thing that is amazing about the human body is that yours was given to you! And that means you know it better than anyone. Kathy Kater, psychotherapist and author of Real Kids Come in All Sizes...said, “the most notable aspect of positive body esteem is that, whether or not the outside world agrees, we are the ultimate authority on ourselves. We are in our body.”
So setting aside how the world might or might not judge our bodies, we know whether we’re hungry or full, tired or energetic, feeling pain or relief. Of course appropriate health advice from credible sources is important, but the decisions we make about our bodies don’t need to go through an instagram or pinterest or snapchat filter. You are the expert on yourself, and you can teach your kids to be as well.
Help your kids recognize the difference in how they feel after watching the Disney channel vs. playing outside with a friend. Teach your kids to identify how they feel when they gorge on Halloween candy, vs. how they feel after a healthy dinner. Help them identify how much better they’re able to function when they’ve had enough sleep. Then instead of paying attention to outside voices about what is best for them, they can take pride in paying attention to their bodies and be able to discover what really brings them peace and satisfaction.
Our kids set themselves free to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally healthy when they turn inward for their prescriptions instead of toward the many voices in the media who seem to be practicing medicine without a license.
Knowing themselves, they can set goals for themselves. Help them discover what they want to accomplish with their incredible body. Do they want to learn to swim? Do they want to hike to the top of a mountain? Do they want to be an artist? Do they want to learn to bake? People with any body type, or nose size can do those things, and when they’re focused on accomplishing things that bring them joy, they will be feeding the good wolf.
3 - Modeling - As parents we have a big responsibility to model healthy body image.
How much time, energy, money do you spend on your appearance? Do your kids see you make major investments into how you look? I’m not saying what the right answer is here, but it’s important to consider the message you are sending your kids about how important physical appearance is. I don’t wear much makeup, but when my kids were smaller they used to ask why I wear it. I’m not sure this is the right answer, but I didn’t want them to think makeup was necessary or even important so I just said, “I just wear it for fun.” That seemed to work for them.
I remember also back in the day, before I became an aspiring minimalist, I was cautious about letting my small kids see me decide on what to wear in the morning because I might try on a few different things before finding something I felt confident in, and I didn’t want them to develop the same concerns about things like that.
Also consider, how do you talk about yourself? Let your kids hear you talking about your body and it’s abilities in a positive, grateful way.
I have plenty of stretch marks from pregnancy - but as much for my kids as for me I proudly call them my battle scars. I want them to know that I’m grateful for my body’s ability to bear children. And if that means I get stretch marks over half my body, then bring it on! Our bodies are living, breathing organisms that will constantly change over our lifespan. The changes in our bodies are evidence of the beauty of life!
WHAT WE SEE
Have you ever thought about how the ability to see with our eyes can actually blind us? The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen with the light that passes through our cornea. And if we focus too much on what our physical sight shows us, we will miss out on the breathtaking beauty of what is beyond our vision, the talents, and goodness and love and heroism that lies within each of us.
So what would you say to the 10,000 people a month who google the phrase, “am I ugly?” Or what would you say to your own child who asks you that? Here’s what Beauty Redefined suggests, and they’ve written it for girls, but it equally applies to boys, “Of course you think she’s adorable, and she should know that. But, more importantly, she is more than pretty or cute or adorable. Tell her who she is – smart, loving, curious, energetic, creative, articulate, compassionate, talented, etc. “I see the way you include those kids that no one else talks to. You are so kind and compassionate.” Or “You are an incredible artist. You have a gift that helps people feel happy!” Or anything else that helps her see her PURPOSE that extends far beyond how well she decorates the earth. When she can find her many purposes, she will feel less need to look to her beauty or her body to find purpose, love, and acceptance.”
My son’s kindergarten teacher made it her mission to take proactive measures against bullying. She saw how her sister was hurt by bullies and never wanted another child to go through that. I used to volunteer regularly in her classroom and there were a couple times where she tasked me with helping the kids write positive messages to hang in the halls.
Those little kindergarten kids would come up with the most random uplifting phrases that we typed, and then cut out and hung up all over the school. Everywhere any student looked they would see a happy inspiring note like, “You are nice,” or “I will play with you,” or “I love your smile.” My daughter who was in fourth grade at the time appreciated it so much that she came home and did the same thing in our house. I loved how those messages counteracted the negativity we were bombarded with elsewhere.
As we help our kids carefully consume media and other messages, recognize how amazing their bodies are, learn to be the authority on their bodies, and as we model for them what a healthy body image looks like, we will be helping them gain the confidence my seven month old self had when I saw my image in the mirror so many years ago.
If you want to share what’s worked to help your kids with their body image, I’d love to hear them! Leave them as a comment on instagram or facebook, or here on my website.
Remember you are entitled to inspiration for raising your kids. No one is better qualified than you!
Thanks for listening, and have an awesome day!