I can’t think of any women I know who don’t have some issues with their bodies. Our culture’s obsession with weight, size and beauty makes it easy to focus on the ways your body doesn’t measure up (or down) to the ideal. Since food is the primary way we contribute to, or try to control, our bodies’ shapes, an unhealthy relationship to food often emerges as the companion to body image anxiety.
And these issues don’t just go away when you have kids. In fact, body changes, whether they’re the result of pregnancy or plain old aging, can make things worse.
Most of us are desperate to give our kids—present or future—a healthy relationship toward food and their bodies. But…how? Especially if your own body image leaves a little something to be desired?
Stacie Billis explores this question in her piece on Babble. A positive body image was at the top of her list, pre-pregnancy: “I wanted a girl. I wanted to raise Stacie 2.0 — a smart, sassy, caring, funny, confident girl who would love her body no matter what size. That last part would be the most ambitious upgrade in v2.0.” But as Billis discovered, even boys are sensitive to how their mothers deal with their bodies.
There are so many things to think about before becoming a parent. Most of these things seem to focus on what you’re going to do with your child. But some of the toughest parenting challenges are the ones that are about how you deal with yourself and your own issues. And these are arguably more important, as your own underlying stuff guides your parenting choices as well as the rest of your behavior. As a mother, you become your child’s model. Kids learn more from watching how you behave than listening to what you tell them.
Here are five ways you can use your own behavior as a mother to help model a healthy body image for your kids in the future:
1. Don’t put your body down.
Your children learn how to relate to their bodies from you. If you have negative feelings you feel like you need to express, try to keep them out of your children’s earshot. They may not react, but they hear you.
2. Make healthy eating a part of your family life.
Cooking together is a great way to make healthy food a natural and fun part of your family. Even a tiny baby can be a part of the kitchen environment as an observer, and toddlers can get involved with some parts of food prep (washing, mixing, etc).
3. Stay active, apart and together.
Show your kids that moving your body doesn’t end when recess is over. You can dance, jog, do yoga with a new baby. Later, the possibilities are endless. And letting your kids see you take time out of your day to work out will send the message that exercise is a priority for adults too. Just remember to put the stress on the positive, rather than complaining about how you want your body to change.
4.Think about how you talk to your kids about diets.
This can be a tough one. Sometimes adults need to change their eating habits to get to a healthier weight. But meticulously controlling your food intake sends a confusing message to kids, as does the very idea of losing weight. Even a well balanced, healthy diet can inspire an obsessiveness about food. Depending on your family’s eating habits, you may be able to do most of the measuring, counting or other obvious portion control work privately. If your children do pick up on your change in eating habits, try to focus on being healthier rather than weight loss.
5. Work toward your own positive body image, and show your children when you feel good about yourself.
The best thing you can do for your kids’ body image is show them that you’re happy with your own. If you’re not happy with how you look or feel, think about why. Are you truly feeling unhealthy, or just imperfect? Your ability to accept yourself, imperfections and all, is how your children will learn to do the same.
Photo: Christy Scherrer/flickr