I would like to share an example of how this topic has presented itself in our household recently and my actions to address this with my daughters personally. I hope it will give you food for thought in your own family.
My daughter (then aged 9) had started being quite critical of her body and noticing ‘flaws’ in mine. Her body had started changing as she approached her tween years, and she had noticed – and she didn’t like it.
I had talked with my girls about how our bodies work (they’ve known about ‘how babies are made’, periods etc.. for ages), but I then focussed more about nutrition, how what we fuel our bodies with matters. Eating, exercising, and treating our bodies out of love because we deserve it, not because something is ‘bad’ and needs to be fixed. Never to ‘diet’ but to eat intentionally, out of love.
When my daughter was on a body image warpath, my body size and shape happened to be the ‘biggest’ that I had ever been except when pregnant. I had put on roughly 9kg/gone up 2 dress sizes, and my shape was completely different due to some medical issues. I will admit that it was a bit tough for me. I had ‘bounced back’ after having my girls to my pre-baby size. I’ve always had a ‘dancer’s body’ from dancing, ice skating and horse riding my whole life. But my body had gone ‘different’, and I wasn’t used to it.
I used this as a teaching tool for both my girls. I would say to them that I trusted my body to sort itself out and heal itself. I would say that just because I had cellulite, my tummy wasn’t flat right, etc., didn’t mean I was any less worthy or awesome. I was, and am, honest with my girls. Bodies change. I’m still eating (mostly) healthy food. I live an active lifestyle. I still wore my bikini to the beach, rocking my muffin top and had a blast – because who cares?! I’m not there to win a modelling contest – I’m there to make memories with my girls! I may not have fit into 90% of my wardrobe, and maybe I wasn’t as confident at that time, and that’s ok. It’s ok to have these feelings, and that’s what I teach my girls. Acceptance is the key.
I have also had talks with them about how what we see on tv, online, ads, social media etc., isn’t real. I have explained the social history e.g. why most women feel like they ‘have to’ shave their armpits/legs/etc. (tip – watch Adam Ruins Everything about that topic – Mr Gillette has a lot to answer for!).
The important message here is why try and be like everyone else? I have taught the girls that if you want to shave (or do whatever) because it makes YOU happy, then do it. Not because you feel like you SHOULD, or to try and fit in. The need to ‘fit in’ is especially prevalent in autistic girls. They use their astounding ability to observe what everyone else (aka the cool kids) are doing and try to mask to appear like others because they think that if they do that, they will be ‘right’ and be ‘just like everyone else’. They are rad just as they are!
Today more than ever before, it is so important to instil in our children (yes, body image is just as much of a thing for boys as it is for girls or non-binary folks) the love and acceptance for themselves as they are is paramount.
Let’s do a little reflection homework.
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