Thinking Out Loud: Teaching Children a Healthy Body Image When You Struggle With Your Own.

tanya thinking out loudI can remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. We’re sitting in a pub – my parents and I. My guess is that I was nine maybe ten years old.  But while I’m sitting there drinking my ‘soft drink’ (soda as my fellow US dwellers might call it), the issue of weight comes up. Again. I have no idea what was said, or why, but what I do remember is my father wrapping his big hands around the soft part of my upper knee and exclaiming how my legs were so big he couldn’t even reach his hands around.

That is not the only memory where I feel the burning feeling of shame trickling up my neck and spreading to my cheeks. But it is one of the clearest. Because in that moment I realized that I was not only overweight, but also (I assumed) a source of shame for my parents.

In just a moment the connection between weight and the feeling of shame was soldered together forever.

At the time of writing this, I am 43 years old. As a woman, wife and mother, I have grown and matured so very much since then. I have gone through my own therapy, I have worked and counseled others. I’m told that I come across as very confident and funny. And  I am. Relatively speaking, I am a completely different person.

I still have scars. I know that I can easily feel shame about my weight. My weight has remained relatively steady for many, many years. It has been creeping up lately (again), but for the first time in my life it is a conscious diet choice that I am making to heal a thyroid issue, and it’s working. I’m resting a lot more, and these two things are leading to a temporary ‘expansion’. And there are moments when my old demons are re-triggered. Every time I put on my jeans and they feel just a little tighter, I am reminded of that shame.

At least now, I am aware of it. And better equipped to deal than when I was that hurt little girl.

Another great read:  Are you a good enough mother?

Through all of this, I have been working very hard at applying some simple concepts with my three beautiful daughters. Because believe me – if it is humanly possible I will not be the reason that their body image fuses with negative or overpowering emotions.

If I am to blame… Well, I’m saving up for some good therapy for them 😉

Insight: Progress is still having scars, yet choosing how to act rather than allowing the scars dictate how to react

Several years ago, my little girls were in a beautifully bubbly mood. I, on the other hand was not. They had put on ‘princess dresses’ and had little fake flowers in their hair. My eldest daughter and her twin sisters were asking – no begging – me to “Please, PLEASE, mom, put on a pretty dress and dance with us”. I had no pretty dresses that fit me at that time. I still hadn’t lost the proverbial ‘baby weight’, I was working a lot, and I was exhausted. The LAST thing I wanted to do was put on a ‘pretty dress’ and dance. Because I was FAT. And TIRED. And grumpy, dammit. And my husband decided to take the camera out to take pictures (which he almost never does). And I thought to myself “Oh NO – I’m going to have pictures of myself looking awful in this awful dress which is the only one that I could fit into…”

But I did it anyway.

Let me tell you what I’m grateful for:

  • I’m grateful that I didn’t say any of this out loud to my kids, or my husband
  • I’m grateful that I went through my closet and put on a dress (the “prettiest one”), and the pretty necklace and bracelet my daughter picked out too, to go dance
  • I’m grateful that my husband took pictures that included me – and that I resisted telling him not to (oh, check out this post if you are one of the very few who haven’t read it by Alison Tate: The Mom Stays In The Picture and her more recent post which is really great too).
Another great read:  Got the January blues? 6 Tips to get you back on track

Why?

Because my kids saw their mom in a pretty dress dancing with them, their dad there taking pictures, and all of us smiling and laughing. And those moments have been captured.

dancing with my girls
You will likely have some type of reaction to these pictures.  Thoughts like “She’ s not fat at all – what’s she talking about?” or  “I wonder if that’s an auto-filter to antique the colors?”  or “Look at those cute kiddos” or “Eek, terrible hair”.  Or maybe no real thoughts just a positive – or negative – emotional or even physical reaction. And any or all are okay.  Because what I have learned is that those reactions say more about you than they do about me. Your reactions are a good reflection of the things that preoccupy your thoughts, inform your beliefs and even affect your actions.

I know this because I live this.  You do too.

Notice your reactions.  They will teach you a lot about where you have come from, as well as where you need to go.

dancing with my girls 2

Parenting small children is a struggle. But I know that this is a challenge we can face together. My kids and I talk about feelings and fears. I try to do that in ways that are suited to their age and at a level they can ‘understand’. That changes as they develop. I get it “wrong” sometimes – but I get it right slightly more, and I’m trying to keep it that way.

All we can do is our best.

And those pictures? – I LOVE them for a million reasons that have nothing to do with how I look.

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3 responses to “Thinking Out Loud: Teaching Children a Healthy Body Image When You Struggle With Your Own.

  1. Pingback: Nurturing a healthy body image in young children | Two Wise Chicks

  2. Wow. Such a wise and important post! I also remember each sentence that my parents said about my weight (associated with a lot of shame), though they were really few, and weren’t said with bad intentions at all. It’s relieving for me to see that it can have the same strong effect on other people as well. Your photos are just beautiful 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words, and for taking the time to reply. I am so glad that you found comfort in knowing you are ‘not alone’. Certainly not! Of course, I believe my parents did not have ‘bad intentions’ at all – I think many of us say and do things with good intentions but either lacking the skill with how to communicate those intentions in a helpful (vs. hurtful) way, or indeed the comment(s) are a reflection of a persons own scars. Tanya

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