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“Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind” (National Eating Disorders Association). This includes what you believe about your own appearance including memories, assumptions, and generalizations, and also how you feel about your height, weight, shape, and how your body feels as you move around. A positive body image means that you see your body for what it really is. You accept and appreciate your body, and realize that you are much more than just your body. You do not obsess about diets and exercise, and you are comfortable and confident just the way you are.

How many women and girls do you know that feel this way about themselves. I’d like to be able to say most, but the reality is very few. We are immersed in a culture that values physical appearance, not helped by the media which uses Photoshop and other means of perfecting the bodies of the models, many of whom are already underweight. What message does this send to young girls? And what messages are we, as women and parents, sending to our own children, both the girls and the boys?

We cannot open a magazine or turn on the television without seeing unrealistic images of women everywhere. While there has been some minimal progress showing “real” women in advertising, it’s simply not enough yet to have much impact. Girls and women are constantly comparing themselves to these images that they see. Boys do it too, both about themselves, as well as well as their expectations for what an “attractive” girl looks like. Do not perpetuate this!

Our children are struggling with eating disorders and self-esteem issues, all based on outward appearance. Kids are bullying one another, and even adults are “body shaming” one another on social media. How have we allowed this to happen to our society?

When you get dressed to go out and say that you look fat in your outfit, your daughter hears that. So does your son. As your daughter matures and her body becomes fuller, she will grow to despise her curves just as she has heard you do so many times. And be careful with your boys. Do you really want to raise boys who have perfectionist expectations of women as they age? What can you do to improve your own body image and help prevent your children from perpetuating these warped views?

First, here are some ways to increase your own body image.

  1. Take a long, hard look at your naked body in the mirror. Find 3 things you love about your body. Allow yourself 3 things to dislike.
  2. Once you decide which 3 things to dislike, find a more positive light to shed on each. For example, you might have stretch marks from giving birth. What a miracle and a gift! Maybe you have small breasts. They will never hang down to your knees!
  3. Focus on good overall health, rather than obsessing over diets and fitness. Live a healthy lifestyle, and know that this matters more than appearance.
  4. Surround yourself with supportive, loving, positive people, who accept you and love you just the way you are. Get rid of toxic relationships and negativity.
  5. Realize that what you see in magazines is not real. And even if it was, being an underweight model does not make you healthy. And no woman will look at 50 like she did at 25.

Now, as far as how to set a better example for the children, here are some tips.

  1. Never, and I mean NEVER, make negative comments about your physical appearance in front of your children.
  2. Don’t make comments about OTHER people’s bodies either (especially not your own partner). Not even “wow, you’ve lost so much weight and look great”. While it may be true, it just reinforces that we are all about our bodies, which we are not.
  3. Tell your child they are beautiful, no matter what they look like. Never focus on their looks.
  4. Find things to compliment your children on that have nothing to do with looks. Rather than “you have such a great figure”, try “you are so strong”.
  5. If your child is obese, focus on it medically, not aesthetically. Work together as a family to lead a healthy lifestyle and make it fun.

If your children see and hear you being a confident, self-loving person, they will grow up to love themselves and respect others. You will be giving them the gift of realistic expectations, both regarding themselves and their partners. Let’s raise a generation of confident, respectful, caring individuals who look beyond physical perfection and value character above all else.

(If your think your child is suffering from an eating disorder, do not ignore this. They can cause permanent damage to their bodies of left untreated. Seek professional help immediately.)