Teaching Good Body Image: Moms Can Help Kids By Helping Themselves

We're often told that moms should shield their daughters from their own body image issues. Now, a week after Joanna Chakerian's 1st-person essay on the issue - a WaPo writer explains how to do it.

Her tips are pretty solid. First, she states the obvious: avoid making critical comments about your daughter's body or what she eats, and "resist the urge to focus on your weight when talking about yourself." When trying on clothes, she suggests, don't say,"'Oh, my thighs look terrible in these pants!' say something like, 'Hmm, the cut of these jeans isn't right for me'" — which actually sounds like good advice for anyone.

A little less basic are Huget's recommendations to have a treat once in a while, to "accept compliments graciously" and pay yourself one from time to time, and to "be patient with yourself." To explain this last one, Huget references Dara Chadwick, author of an upcoming book on moms, daughters, and body image:

You're not going to undo a life's worth of body-image problems overnight. But until you do get to the point where you're comfortable with your own body, Chadwick suggests in her book, "fake it."

Like the rest of Huget's tips, this one seems basically smart. Still, it's a little sad that moms have to "fake" good body image in order to raise healthy kids. Huget's headline, too, is unsettling: "Watch What You Eat, Yes. But Also Watch What You Say and Do Around Your Daughter." It implies that good parenting is a matter of "watching" everything, including (secretly, mind you) your diet, rather than focusing on feeling good, and letting that feeling spread to your children.

In The Age, Jacqueline Lunn talks about a friend and fellow mother who felt inferior when she compared herself to postpartum pictures of Naomi Watts. She writes,

There's a choice about whether we seek out these photographs and stories or ignore them. About whether we look at the pictures and wonder at the myth of it, or look down at our own tummy and make an unfair comparison. Somewhere, among the feelings and the images, between the truth and the fiction, there is an intelligent woman and a choice.

It's true that we have some control over how we feel, and maybe "faking it" will actually help some moms feel better over time. But when Huget writes that "the main things I think about my body" are "my thighs and butt are too big and my breasts are way too small" or that moms "want [their daughters] to be able to wear the jeans they want and not have to shop in the plus-sizes shops," it sounds like she has a deeply-ingrained attitude that one type of body is better than others.

Instead of hiding this kind of attitude from your daughter, why not try to change it — by making a choice not to compare yourself with celebrities, certainly, but also by campaigning to change plus-size shops, not girls' bodies, and by championing the notion that if you're healthy, no thigh is "too big" and no breast is "too small." Moms should do this for their own well-being as much as for their kids', and childless people can be as active in these areas as parents. And whether you have kids or not, by all means compliment yourself once in a while — and believe it!

Watch What You Eat, Yes. But Also Watch What You Say and Do Around Your Daughter. [Washington Post]
Baby body blues [The Age]

Earlier: Can An Eating Disorder Be Blamed On A Parent?