Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How I hope to instill a healthy body image in my two girls

Welcome to the October 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Instilling a Healthy Self-Image
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared confessions, wisdom, and goals for helping children love who they are. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Image courtesy Scoobie1993

I think one of the most inspiring books I read as a new mom was Lean Mommy by Lisa Druxman, the creator of Stroller Strides.  I got the book because I was looking for some ideas for how to involve my little one in my workouts, since I wanted to get in shape without subjecting my baby to the germs in the gym daycare.  But what I got from that book was so much more than workout advice.  I got some of the best advice I've ever come across about raising a child with a healthy self-image. 

I'm sure most moms (and dads, for that matter) have things they'd like to change about their physical appearance.  But how does it affect our children when we express these desires aloud?  I had never really thought about it, but in her book Lisa Druxman explained how everything we do and say will shape how our children view themselves and impact the lifestyle habits that they will adopt.

Think about this for a moment:
A verbalized feeling-fat moment while stepping on the scale teaches a child something that she should never have been exposed to: that there is a "right" and a "wrong" way for his or her body to be. The child loves mom and at a young age would not notice her flaws. But mom's comment now zooms the child's attention to the idea that, as great as she is, mommy doesn't like herself or her body. This makes her child hyperaware of his or her own body. And he or she learns to judge their own body negatively, too. (Druxman, 187)
Wow!  Who would have thought that our own insecurities could have such an impact on our children?

I think one of the most important things we can do to instill a healthy body image in our children is to show them that we LOVE our bodies!  Be a positive role model for a healthy body image and never let your child hear you say a negative or disparaging comment about your body, or anyone else's.

Sometimes the things we say might not seem to be negative, but by placing an emphasis on the way our body LOOKS rather than how healthy or unhealthy our body is, we can perpetuate the "thin is good, thick is bad" attitude that is so common in society today.

About two months ago, just a few weeks before my hubby turned 30, he decided he was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and wanted to get in shape!  Back in January he had gotten some blood work done as part of a life insurance application and was concerned with some of the results, so he was hoping to lose some weight and improve his health.  He took a two week CrossFit trial class and discovered the Paleo Plan, which has been life changing for us.  We've been eating Paleo and exercising regularly for the past two months, and as a result we both feel healthier and fitter than we ever have in our adult lives!

Through the process though, there has been a lot of talk about "losing weight." And the word "fat" has come up more than once.  I cringe at that word, and hearing it come from my big, strong husband... my babies' daddy and role model... made the powerful message of Lean Mommy come rushing back to the front of my mind.  Those words may not appear to be affecting our girls right now, but surely they are listening and forming opinions of right and wrong, good and bad.  Do I want my girls to grow up thinking "fat" is bad and "losing weight" or being "skinny" is good??

I had a little chat with my hubby a week or two ago and we agreed that F-A-T would be a word that is off-limits in our home.  We agreed that the way we phrase things is very important... we don't work out to "lose weight", we work out to be fit and healthy.  We shouldn't be so concerned with the "calories" we eat, but whether we are getting the nutrients our bodies need.  We want to focus on how the food we're eating makes us feel (energetic, sluggish, or sick to our stomachs) above all else! 

That's one thing that has been very apparent to both of us as we've changed how we eat... we feel so much more energetic and focused and HAPPY!  No more indigestion, bloating, gas, or fatigue.  Even my husband's hives have gone away!  Those are the things that are really important, and those are the things I want to focus on!!

Along those same lines, I'm learning it's important not to use food as a control tool.  We shouldn't require our children eat any set quantity of food or to use food as a reward or incentive.  Rather, it is important to teach our children to listen to their bodies... to recognize when they're hungry and when they're satisfied (which is different from being full )!

She never seems to have a problem licking the bowl clean when there's chocolate pudding in it!

When Gigi was a toddler I fell into the trap of saying "Please eat 2 or 3 more bites," and I would get really excited when she cleaned her plate.  To make matters worse, I would also tell her she couldn't have a treat unless she ate a good dinner.  It didn't take long before she started asking, "How many bites do I have to eat?" the moment she sat down at the table!

I knew I didn't want my daughter to be emotionally attached to -- or at war with -- food!  I wanted her to see food as a source of nourishment and energy.  I didn't want her to feel guilty if she did or didn't eat something, because I knew that could lead to eating disorders down the road.

Thankfully, around this time I was reading The Discipline Book, by Dr. Sears and it included a section on "Feeding Good Behavior."  I love the tips he offered, such as giving choices, not using food to fix emotional or physical hurts, and stocking your pantry with healthy foods and allowing kids to help themselves when they're hungry (rather than when we tell them they should be hungry)!  I think the best piece of advice he had though, was this:
Don't use food as a control tool.  Never push food on babies or children.  If they want it, they'll either open wide or pick it up themselves.  It's your job to provide healthy, nutritious food.  It's your child's job to eat it.  Never chase your child with a spoonful of anything.  Never use the threat of "no dessert" to get a child to finish his main course.  Don't even talk about how well or poorly a child has eaten.  Zip your lip.  It's his stomach. (Sears, 128)
So now that's my mealtime mantra... "It's your job to provide healthy, nutritious food.  It's your child's job to eat it."  And I'm not going to lie... I get frustrated with the amount of food that ends up wasted, but I suppose it's a small price to pay to (hopefully) prevent my daughters from having an unhealthy relationship with food!! 

Gigi still inevitably asks (almost daily), "How many bites do I have to eat?" And now I simply respond "I want you to take as many bites as it takes not to be hungry anymore!"

I know I'm not perfect, but I hope that I'm setting a good example for my daughters.  I try to show them how fun it is to exercise and how good it makes us feel when our bodies are strong and healthy.  I try to model healthy eating by choosing foods that are packed with nutrients that my body needs (or as Dr. Sears puts it, "the food that makes you grow") the majority of the time  and occasionally indulging in foods that are less healthful.  I never forbid foods, because I know that when something is off limits, it just makes you want it that much more.  I try to just practice moderation and never beat myself up over what I eat.

I hope that I can help my girls develop healthy habits now, so they will grow up to be healthy, confident girls with a positive self image.  I know my girls will be subjected to societal pressures of beauty all too soon, but I hope that by setting a positive example with my actions, and by choosing my words carefully, I will help them to love themselves and love their bodies, regardless of their size.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon October 9 with all the carnival links.)

  • Why I Walk Around Naked — Meegs at A New Day talks about how she embraces her own body so that her daughter might embrace hers.
  • What I Am Is Not Who I Am — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses her views on the importance of modeling WHO she is for her daughter and not WHAT she sees in the mirror.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Verbs vs. Adjectives — Alisha at Cinnamon & Sassafras tries hard to compliment what her son does, not who he is.
  • The Naked Family — Sam at Love Parenting talks about how nudity and bodily functions are approached in her home.
  • How She'll See Herself — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis discusses some of the challenges of raising a daughter in our culture and how she's hoping to overcome them.
  • Self Esteem and all it's pretty analogies — Musings from Laura at Pug in the Kitchen on what she learned about self-esteem in her own life and how it applies to her parenting.
  • Beautiful — Tree at Mom Grooves writes about giving her daughter the wisdom to appreciate her body and how trying to be a role model taught Tree how to appreciate her own.
  • Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Nurturing A Healthy Body Image — Christy at Eco Journey in the Burbs is changing perceptions about her body so that she may model living life with a positive, healthy body image for her three young daughters.
  • Some{BODY} to LoveKate Wicker has faced her own inner demons when it comes to a poor body image and even a clinical eating disorder, and now she wants to help her daughters to be strong in a world that constantly puts girls at risk for losing their true selves. This is Kate's love letter to her daughters reminding them to not only accept their bodies but to accept themselves as well in every changing season of life.
  • They Make Creams For That, You Know — Destany at They Are All of Me writes about celebrating her natural beauty traits, especially the ones she passed onto her children.
  • New Shoes for Mama — Kellie of Our Mindful Life, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, is getting some new shoes, even though she is all grown up…
  • Raising boys with bodily integrity — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants her boys to understand their own bodily autonomy — so they'll respect their own and others'.
  • Sowing seeds of self-love in our children — After struggling to love herself despite growing up in a loving family, Shonnie at Heart-Led Parenting has suggestions for parents who truly want to nurture their children's self-esteem.
  • Subtle Ways to Build a Healthy Self-Image — Emily at S.A.H.M i AM discusses the little things she and her husband do every day to help their daughter cultivate a healthy self-image.
  • On Barbie and Baby Bikinis: The Sexualization of Young Girls — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger finds it difficult to keep out the influx of messages aimed at her young daughters that being sexy is important.
  • Undistorted — Focusing on the beauty and goodness that her children hold, Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children watches them grow, loved and undistorted.
  • Off The Hook — Arpita at Up, Down and Natural sheds light on the journey of infertility, and how the inability to get pregnant and stay pregnant takes a toll on self image…only if you let it. And that sometimes, it feels fantastic to just let yourself off the hook.
  • Going Beyond Being An Example — Becky at Old New Legacy discusses three suggestions on instilling healthy body image: positivity, family dinners, and productivity.
  • Raising a Confident Kid — aNonymous at Radical Ramblings describes the ways she's trying to raise a confident daughter and to instil a healthy attitude to appearance and self-image.
  • Instilling a Healthy Self Image — Laura at This Mama's Madness hopes to promote a healthy self-image in her kids by treating herself and others with respect, honesty, and grace.
  • Stories of our Uniqueness — Casey at Sesame Seed Designs looks for a connection to the past and celebrates the stories our bodies can tell about the present.
  • Helping My Boy Build a Healthy Body Image — Lyndsay at ourfeminist{play}school offers readers a collection of tips and activities that she uses in her journey to helping her 3-year-old son shape a healthy body image.
  • Eat with Joy and Thankfulness: A Letter to my Daughters about Food — Megan at The Boho Mama writes a letter to her daughters about body image and healthy attitudes towards food.
  • Helping Our Children Have Healthy Body Images — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares information about body image, and her now-adult daughter tells how she kept a healthy body image through years of ballet and competitive figure skating.
  • Namaste — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment shares how at barely 6 years old, her daughter has begun to say, "I'm not beautiful." And while it's hard to listen to, she also sees it as a sign her daughter is building her self-image in a grassroots kind of way.
  • 3 Activities to Help Instill a Healthy Self-Image in Your Child — Explore the changing ideals of beauty, create positive affirmations, and design a self-image awareness collage. Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares these 3 ideas + a pretty affirmation graphic you can print and slip in your child's lunchbox.
  • Beautiful, Inside and Out — It took a case of adult-onset acne for Kat of MomeeeZen to find out her parenting efforts have resulted in a daughter that is truly beautiful, inside and out.
  • Mirroring Positive Self Image for Toddlers — Shannon at GrowingSlower reflects on encouraging positive self image in even the youngest members of the family.
  • How I hope to instill a healthy body image in my two girls — Raising daughters with healthy body image in today's society is no small task, but Xela at The Happy Hippie Homemaker shares how choosing our words carefully and being an example can help our children learn to love their bodies.
  • Self Image has to Come from WithinMomma Jorje shares all of the little things she does to encourage healthy attitudes in her children, but realizes she can't give them their self images.
  • Protecting the Gift — JW from True Confessions of a Real Mommy wants you to stop thinking you need to boost your child up: they think they are wonderful all on their own.
  • Learning to Love Myself, for my Daughter — Michelle at Ramblings of Mitzy addresses her own poor self-image.
  • Nurturing An Innate Sense of Self — Marisa at Deliberate Parenting shares her efforts to preserve the confidence and healthy sense of self they were born with.
  • Don't You Love Me, Mommy?: Instilling Self-Esteem in Young Children After New Siblings Arrive — Jade at Seeing Through Jade Glass But Dimly hopes that her daughter will learn to value herself as an individual rather than just Momma's baby
  • Exercising is FUN — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work talks about modeling for her children that exercising is FUN and good for body and soul.
  • Poor Little Chicken — Kenna at A Million Tiny Things gets her feathers ruffled over her daughter's clothing anxiety.
  • Loving the skin she's in — Mama Pie at Downside Up and Outside In struggles with her little berry's choice not to celebrate herself and her heritage.
  • Perfect the Way I Am — Erika at Cinco de Mommy struggles — along with her seven-year-old daughter — at telling herself she's perfect just the way she is.


Unknown said...

It has only been in the last year or so that I too have started to look at myself and my relationship with food as healthy vs unhealthy rather than about calories and fat vs thin. It has truly been freeing. I'm so thankful this change came about in time that I can try to instill the same values in my little boy from a young age. It sounds like you're doing a great job of doing the same!

MomeeeZen said...

Thank you for reminding me of that awesome piece of wisdom from Dr. Sears (I had read it a while ago but needed to hear it again!). I also love the approach of loving ourselves and being healthy vs using more negative language/attitude. Great post!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

We don't force food or make it a controlling tool, but we do have food struggles sometimes - i.e., I give a healthy meal, the preschooler does not like it. I give a healthy alternative, the preschooler doesn't want it. Then the preschooler wants to have several other options. (sigh)
Food can be so hard! But good for you for working to be healthy.

Tree Peters said...

I totally agree with everything you talked about here.
We've been on a very similar track with our daughter and so far it seems great.
I had to smile about your brilliant daughter asking how many bites she had to take.... They are such good teachers for us, aren't they?
You seemed to have learned well. I love your answer now.
I get frustrated with the food thing too and just keep trying to reinforce that she needs to eat what will nourish her body. When she was little (er, she's 5 now), I would just give her her food and tell her what was on her plate and where the most nutrition was... Now often she will ask me and start eating there. She loves science and human anatomy so it's a good way to talk about nutrition.
Whatever works, right?

Momma Jorje said...

I am so paranoid about giving my children complexes as they relate to food!

I do differ on one major point you've made: I am honest with my kids about not liking an aspect of myself (be it physical or mental). I don't obsess over it, though, and I make sure to show them I'm proud of other things about myself. I try to point out that some things we can change (exercise, etc) while other things we can accept and move on (crooked eyes or something that would require surgery to change).

Also... we do not own scales. I just don't see the need for them at all. I think they encourage a family to possibly become overly concerned about the pounds. If you're truly more concerned with how you feel, why have a scale?

Lauren Wayne said...

Nice! I like that quote "It's his stomach." So true. I have to stop myself from coaxing my kids to eat more and just let them use their own intuitive eating skills. Have you read Ellyn Satter? Sounds like you'd love her as well!

Moosey Momma said...

Some dear friends of mine often talk about the need to lose weight or how their young children (who are perfect) are "Chunky". While I have been able to tune out these conversations, this has really started to bother me lately as my little girl is getting older and listening to us. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this situation?

The Happy Hippie Homemaker said...

That's always a tough one! I think most mamas have a few pounds they'd like to lose, and many seem unaware the affect it has on our children when we speak negatively about our bodies in front of them. What I usually do is say something like, "Yeah, I hear ya! Hey have you ever heard of Stroller Strides?..." and then use that as an intro to paraphrase the quote I included above from the Stroller Strides founder. That statement was so profound to me and really helped me to see how my body image could affect my children. Anyway, I've found that approaching it that way is empathetic and informative, yet non-confrontational. Plus, for a mama who wants to shed a few pounds, the Stroller Strides program really could help :)


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