Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Parenting language that promotes healthy body images

New Year's Resolution Speak!

It's that time of year to revisit how we communicate New Year's fitness resolutions.

Constructed on a 5 foot 1 inch frame, my body image has been a work-in-progress for most of my 62 years.  Though I was raised by parents who encouraged me to not be defined by my gender, size or body type, I still felt the pressure.  I was more worried about my roundish body in a bathing suit than the burn scars that covered 20 percent of it.  I didn't feel responsible for the scars and thus dismissed them from my pressure to be perfect.  The not-so-perfect roundness of my body, well that was another story.  

I was blessed to have a mother with strong instincts and unconditional love.  She hung in there on more than one occasion when I wrecked an otherwise delightful Mother-Daughter outing by ending it in tears inside a fitting room.  The day's goal to search for, select and purchase the perfect outfit for a special event.  However, my inability to capture the look sabotaged the joy of the outing.  Determined that my own three daughters not fall into the same trap, I was buoyed by the writings of Mary Pipher.  Pipher, a psychotherapist specializing in adolescent girls authored the best selling book, Reviving Ophelia as well as The Shelter of Each Other.  Pipher gave voice to the pressure and defeat I felt when measuring myself against unrealistic images.  With years of documented cases as evidence, she had the credentials to bring to light the cause and effect that I had only suspected to be the source of my frustration.

It seems there is a drip, drip, drip of not so subtle messages constantly bombarding our daughters.  These powerful messages help to shape our children's concept of normal and healthy.  The messages put pressure on girls to be pink and pretty with the body dimensions of a Barbie doll.  While parents' abilities to counter these messages seem small in comparison to these bigger than life images on screen and in print, one of the most effective steps is to recognize the power of words.

My husband and I had considered ourselves well-read and fairly astute when it came to parenting, but not until I read an excerpt from Pipher's book did I realize I was not fully acknowledging the power of our words and how they affected our daughters' body image.  It was not enough to encourage our girls to be proud of their bodies and learn to take care of them through wise food choices and exercise.  We were making an impact by the way we observed other body types and the dialogue that surrounded our impressions.  We had no idea that we were unknowingly contributing to the sea of mixed messages.

Awareness of healthy body image language took practice and discipline.   We could see that we were buying into and supporting the same messages that concerned us.  We began to notice that we, too, were talking about our need to diet, someone else's weight loss or gain, in front of our kids.  If our goal was to take charge of helping our kids build healthy self images then we needed to walk our talk.

 Today, our girls are grown women raising daughters.  While many of the same body image challenges persist, so too do the sound principles laid out in Reviving Ophelia!

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