When Parents Struggle with Body Image
By Amanda Grossman-Scott
Whether you have boys or girls, the things you say about yourself (and your spouse!) have an enormous effect on your children’s ideas about themselves and those around them. What ideas are you putting into their heads each day?
I have a confession: I am 35 years old and I’m finally coming to terms with my body image struggle. Even sadder than it taking this long is that there are so many women my age still struggling. I have so many friends who make offhand, negative, deliberate remarks about themselves.
And frankly, I’m sick of hearing it! I’m sick of grown women disparaging themselves either because they really feel that way, or because they think they’re supposed to from some misguided form of humility or because the media tells them they’re not good enough.
For me, it’s weight that I’ve struggled with. The more I weighed, the less I thought I was worth.
Weight isn’t the only thing people struggle with. I know women who struggle with acne or scarring. Women who can’t gain weight. Women who go out every day feeling unfeminine because they’ve never developed more “womanly” curves. Women who have too many curves. Women who hate their curls. Women who think they’re too hairy. The list goes on. It boggles the mind that, as we walk around every day, most women we see are struggling—hard—with a perceived flaw in their body.
Why do we do this to ourselves (and often to each other)? What good is it doing? What is it teaching our children? Did your mother criticize her body in front of you? Are you repeating that mistake for the next generation of children? Many mothers think, “how can I teach my children to love themselves if I don’t love myself?” The answer is that you are the very BEST person to teach them these life lessons.
Here’s something I’m proud of: My kids have never heard me make a disparaging remark about myself. My kids haven’t known my inner struggles with body image and self-worth—the way it ebbs and flows.
I’ve always said positive things about myself to my children. I tell them how amazing it is that I can drive a car to take them places, that I can see their beautiful artwork, that my arms are strong enough to lift them, that their mother is beautiful and smart and kind and capable. I make sure to compliment my spouse and other people as well, on more than just appearance.
The miracle is—I now believe these things. After years of making sure I didn’t self-deprecate and making sure to compliment myself in front of my children, I stopped putting myself down!
I haven’t perfected this practice, but I am improving.
Here are 5 practices that have worked for me.
- Talk Back. That voice in your head telling you that your perceived flaws are more important than who you are is extremely persistent. Don’t let it happen without recognizing and reacting to it. Use positive self-talk to combat those negative thoughts. Which leads me to…
- Block it Out. Once you can start talking back to those thoughts, work on blocking them out completely. The second those disparaging thoughts enter your mind, stop them in their tracks.
- The first two steps. A lot.
- Avoid the mirror. Well, not completely. But don’t spend hours in front of it agonizing over whatever is bothering you. Get ready for your day and then go about it normally. If you’re not trying to figure out what others see when they look at you, you’ll obsess about it less yourself.
- Don’t give up. Maybe there are things you’d like to change about yourself—things that are within your control. But no matter what you change, you won’t be able to truly love yourself until you love and accept yourself fully–“flaws” and all. More important than this is recognizing that your true worth lies in the kind of person you are and how you treat others.
I know that my opinion of myself affects my children’s opinion of me and their ideas about themselves. And I never want them to get the idea from me they are anything less than amazing, full of potential, and worthy of the best.
Coming Soon: Men struggle with body image too!
Find lesson plans on teaching healthy body image and more on our resources page!
Amanda Grossman-Scott is Board Vice president and Head Writer for Educate and Empower Kids. She studied Journalism and Communications. Amanda is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania and now lives with her husband and three children in San Antonio, Texas.