There was a study done a few years ago which found one in five girls weren’t putting their hand up in class for fear of being judged over their appearance. There have also been numerous other pieces of research showing children model behaviours on the adults around them. It’s not rocket science – I mean, I think we kind of know this already don’t we?
But it makes me think, why is dropping an F-bomb in front the kids such a big no-no, yet it’s OK to chat about the diets we’re on or trash talk ourselves in front of the mirror while our children are around? If kids copy our behaviour, and there’s evidence to show some children are not fully participating at school because of negative feelings they have about their body, surely hissing a swear under our breath is way less damaging than body-shaming ourselves or counting calories in front of the kids? Personally, I’d rather my girls hiss the odd swear than hate on themselves.
When I was a teenager at school, one of the worst insults you could get branded with was being “up yourself”. To be “up yourself” was just as bad as being over-enthusiastic or too keen in class or a bit of a geek. Funnily enough, it was only ever really used on girls. No one wanted to be the “up herself” girl who thought she was “all that”. Pretty clever way to keep the girls in line – seen and not heard – when you think about it.
Which is why I take the opposite approach and actively seek the “all that” attitude at home, in front of my kids.
And I’ll tell you why I do it. Girls need to hear the female role models in their life say “I’m brilliant”. They need to hear us say, out loud, “I rock, because…”. They need to hear us take a compliment without turning red with embarrassment or deflecting it away. They need to hear us owning our own brilliance. Because if not us, then who?
I’ll tell you what else I do now that I would have cringed at the thought of aged 16: I look at myself in the mirror and smile. I want my girls to know they are allowed to like their bodies just as they are, without changing them, and if I want them to know this then the lesson starts with me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not standing in the mirror for fifteen minutes preening at myself before strutting around the kitchen like Beyonce. I’m not walking round shouting “I AM THE BOMB!” every two seconds, like some kind of over-excited motivational speaker. But I’m trying, gradually and gently, to show my girls that it’s OK to be happy in their own skin.
Some people might argue that body image has nothing to do with confidence. That girls need to get away from thinking about their bodies altogether and start to place more value on what’s inside. I get that. This is why I’ll always tell my girls they’re funny, clever, kind, brave and strong BEFORE I tell them they’re pretty.
But I want them to appreciate the whole package. I want them to love what’s on the inside AND what’s on the outside, too. And again, this starts with myself.
It’s pressure, isn’t it? We live in this society that celebrates an incredibly narrow ideal of beauty. And so I can see that as positive as I am about bodies, and about showing my kids that their bodies are NOT the most important thing they have to offer the world, once they get out into that world they’re going to be hit by a barrage of messages that could be potentially toxic.
And you can say “just don’t read the magazines”, but it’s way more complicated than that. You’d have to quite literally live in a cave on top of a mountain with no Wi-Fi to avoid these messages altogether. Even if you curate your kids’ Instagram feeds and tell them who to follow, monitor what they watch on YouTube or what magazines they read – you can’t control the ads they see on the side of buses or the billboards on the way to the supermarket. Which is why I think it’s even more important that we reinforce the positive messages at home. And again, that starts with ourselves.
The thing about body confidence – and confidence in general really – is that it places a huge amount of pressure on us as individuals. It seems we’re given two choices: change your body or change the way you THINK about your body. When really, there’s a huge third factor at play that would make all the difference: change the way SOCIETY thinks about your body.
And this is where it gets tricky. Because we only have so much control – which isn’t very much really – when it comes to this stuff. We undoubtedly need to widen the narrow definition of what is beautiful. We most definitely need more diversity in magazines, on TV, in big ad campaigns. BUT that’s not to say we can just hold our hands up and say, “This is too big, what’s the point?” and go back to the safe confines of diet culture and trash talking ourselves in the mirror because, really, what’s the use anyway.
I’d argue that it’s BECAUSE of the messed up messages we’re being fed every day that it’s EVEN MORE important to say “I’m brilliant, because…” at home. Even if you don’t necessarily feel it at the time, faking it until you make it could be a worthwhile exercise. Or, at least, giving up the self trash talk and just taking a completely neutral attitude to your body.
Rebellion begins at home. With a kitchen disco. A smile in the mirror. A naked wiggle on your way to the shower. That’s my approach, anyway.