Monday, March 17, 2014

The image of a perfect body

“She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).”
                                                             ― Lewis Carroll (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)

I have a confession. I'll admit, confessing this scares me, I am truly not sure what kind of responses I could get.  I am honestly concerned that I could lose friends.  (Please know that this is not an indication of judgement on my part, simply a statement related to myself, individually as a person.) 
My confession is: I do not have any body image issues.  Well, at least not any of which I am aware. 
See why it scares me to admit this? You see, I am a girl. So therefore, I am supposed to have body image issues. The fact that I don't is wrong....right? If you read the magazines and keep up with general pop culture, one would think it is impossible. Feeling this way makes me wrong. I am different, and we all know different is bad.
To be a female in this day in age, I am supposed to hate myself. I am supposed to wish I was different, despise mirrors, pictures, and bathing suits shopping. I am supposed to constantly compare myself to other woman and be-moan mine own self while artificially building others up - but I don't. Not really anyhow. 

I will admit I have in the past.  After all, everyone else was, it seemed the thing to do. And there have been times in my life where I have fallen into the trap and truly believed terrible things about myself. But honestly, I got over it pretty quick and was rather disgusted by myself as I looked back. 
If I am being perfectly honest, at this point in my life, body image is not something that I think about much at all. Sure I like to be fit, healthy and athletic. There are times I feel I do a good job at this, and other times I do not. I like to feel beautiful, I perk up every time my husband tells me I am sexy or  pretty - but it always feels like a nice surprise, it is not at all something I feel I need

Again - I do not say this to make anyone feel bad about how they think/feel about themselves or others. Everyone has different needs, everyone has different struggles. We are made uniquely inside and out. This is a simple observation about myself, limited to this specific subject, and what those observations tell me about the world I live in. It has not been sparked by any particular person/place/thing.

Ok, that is not exactly right. It was kinda inspired by something, two things actually. Bear with me - I'll get there eventually. But first, a little back-story.

Since the idea was sparked, body image has been on my mind a lot lately. How do we as a society treat 'building self confidence' in kids (especially young girls).  I know there are lots of philosophies out there, do's and don'ts. But for all that, it doesn't generally seem to be working. Why not? And why did I seem to miss the boat when it comes to being a normal female? Was it something that was done differently in my home growing up? Is it just me? What can I do to aid my own girls in their journeys to find self confidence when it comes to their own body image? What messages am I sending my kids everyday? What messages did my mother send me? How can we keep all the channels clear and what formula is required in order to have the best chance of confidant kids?

I started making a mental list - I came up with three things that I feel were done really right when I was growing up. Sometimes I feel I do ok with these when it comes to my own life, and sometimes not. As always, I speak to myself as well as my readers as I write this - every "you" is a general "you" only written to aid in self reflection. After all, we are all, always learning. Through the self-reflection in this post, it is my deepest desire to be able to give my girls the same gift that my mom gave me.

1. My parents didn't put themselves down in front of me.

I once heard someone (cant remember who) say: "If you talked about someone else the way you talk about yourself, it would be considered verbal abuse." Think about it, how do you talk about yourself? Your body? What does your internal monologue sound like, how often does that internal monologue slip out? How often do you talk about needing to lose weight? How often do you talk about xyz diet, about how you ate too much, how you 'shouldn't have had that, but just couldn't resist' or 'felt you deserved it' for whatever reason. I find I do. I try to catch myself, sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.  I thought back to my childhood, I can remember my mom wanting to be healthier. I can remember her gushing about healthy foods and celebrating good choices. I can remember her having such a large prejudice against sugar that for years, I don't even think it existed in our house. I can remember her talking about how strong she felt when she exercised...but I have absolutely zero memories of her putting down her own body. 
I can't think of even one time that she verbally abused herself in front of us, either stating that she was so fat and needed to lose weight so she could be thin, or chastising her own lack of self control. It was always health, always. Even now, we eat chocolate and drink tea because we love it, not because we 'had a bad day and deserve it.' We also eat sweet pod peas right out of the garden because they are the most delicious that way and share the first strawberry of spring so everyone can taste how amazing it is. Food is a way to celebrate life, not a way to mask misfortune.

 2. We were never required to "finish our plates."  
I will admit, it bothers me when I hear parents demand that of their children. Judge if you will, I never require my children to eat when they are not hungry. Now - all that to say, dessert is not an option if a healthy dinner has not been eaten. Generally I will tell my kids that if they are too full for dinner, they are too full for dessert. But ask my kids and they know the phrase "stop eating when your tummy tells you it is full." If that is three bites, then that is fine. If you want a third helping, that is ok too. But STOP when your tummy tells you to stop. Listen to your body. My mom was never a short order cook, with 5 kids that was not really an option! But if we did not like what was served, if we TRULY could not stomach it, we did not have to eat it. We were free to make ourselves something else, something healthy of course. But that was always an option. The exception: When we were eating over at family or friends. Then we had to eat an appropriate amount to show our manners and say "thank you" whether we liked it or not!

We really do send mixed messages about food to our kids. When they are small we celebrate eating. "You are such a good eater!" or "wow! You are one hungry kid tonight!" We praise their large appetite in one breath while saying "I really need to stop eating so much" in the next. Imagine how confusing this must be to young minds! Why is it different? We never explain. Sure, growing bodies need good, healthy food - but so do adult bodies. There truly is no difference as far as nutritional needs, so why the difference in attitude? And what is the magic age where it changes? We casually speak of diets and restricting food among adults, the TV commercials claim "helps you lose weight!" we complain and say "I really want more, but I REALLY shouldn't!" or any variance of comments about limiting ourselves and yet we are forcing our kids to take "3 more bites" to appease what we think is enough for them. Does this seem wrong to anyone else? 

This is something I am working on with my kids. I don't want to teach them to ignore the signals we are born with that tells us it is time to stop eating. I want them to trust their bodies. Trust in our own bodies equals = confidence in our own bodies. I want to aid confidence any way I can.

3.  I always had examples growing up of what a normal body looked like. And honestly, I think this is the most important, and the most neglected.
When I was a kid, my parents had a sculpture that was kept in their bedroom. Absolutely beautiful. It is called "The Kiss."  According to Wikki - "The Kiss is an 1889 marble sculpture by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin." My parents had a very small version of it, made of what I believe to be real marble as it was very heavy, white, veined with black and I always knew it was something my mother very much treasured. Here is a sample of what the original looked like:

As you can see, they are wearing no clothes and they are kissing - gross huh? Of course as a kid I thought so, but I can also remember my mom believing it to be beautiful, so of course, I did too. I understood there was beauty there, even if I was not yet old enough to understand why.

I believe that this sculpture is one example of something my mother did very right when it came to creating a healthy sense of body image for her girls.

Now, let me add a disclaimer - every parent has a different style, just because I believe my parents did this right, doesn't mean a parent that would chose not to display this sculpture is wrong. Do what works for your family - but I will say, that I believe we as a culture go about learning about the human body in the wrong way, and that has contributed to a society of woman that truly don't know what a normal woman's body looks like. Real bodies are hidden, fake ones displayed. The answer? I don't personally know what the "right" answer is, but I do know that we can't hide from all the fake bodies splashed carelessly across bill-boards and masquerading as real people in shows and in pictures, so what makes the most sense to me is to tip the scale back in the direction of normal. Make normal bodies something that is familiar to your kids. Then the fake ones will appear laughable, I know this, because that is how I always saw them. Our kids are smart, they can spot the difference in a heart-beat, if they are given the tools they need in the first place.

I cannot tell you how many moms have asked me the question: At what age do you start covering up around your kids? My answer: I don't. If it bothers them to see their mom (or dad) naked, then they will choose to not be there when we step out of the shower. I get VERY shocked looks when I give this answer. But honestly, I truly feel that the simple act of a parent covering themselves up quickly after a shower or demanding privacy any time body parts might be within sight, can communicate shame to their kids. I don't remember either of my parents ever acting ashamed around their children, we were just family. Eventually I kept my space and sought out my own privacy. But it was all me, and it just felt like a natural progression of growing up. I barely even noticed the transition. And genetics is on our side here, we will see as normal and healthy, the body we are most likely to inherit. It is almost as if someone designed it all this way...

Now all that to say, while at this point in my parenting I am very open and not at all shy when kids happen to be around, we don't generally tramp about the house in our birthday suits just for the heck of it. We do have conversations on what is appropriate for what setting. We don't walk around the house naked, nor do we wear bathing suits to church. Everything has it's time and place. But after showers or before bed? No reason to hide. 

I will add, that I have all girls. I have not had the privileged of parenting a boy, so I cannot speak to how I would feel in that case. I do, however, feel it is just as important that boys know what normal bodies look like as well - both of the male and female variety. This is not to say you should pour over pictures of naked people together, I am not saying this to be crass. But having a few National Geographic magazines lying around, art that celebrates the human form and/or true to life educational books I think can be VERY important to learning what is and is not normal.  I would go so far as to say they are essential to establishing a good body image. And I think it needs to start by 4 years old. We as a culture, start to cover up at exactly the wrong time.

Does this make sense?

So back to what sparked this internal dialogue. Here are my pictures:


I found them on clearance at Marshalls, I think they are absolutely beautiful.  As I was hanging them in my bathroom I had a realization as to why I liked them so much. The shape of the woman in the sketch is not all that different to my own, which means there is a good chance that my girls will grow up to see something very similar someday when they look in the mirror. How amazing would it be, if they could learn to love this shape, not only as something beautiful, something to be proud of, but as art. REAL art. They are a work of art!

Our bodies are beautiful. No matter the shape or size. Healthy bodies are masterpieces, something to be proud of - something to celebrate. I want my girls to forever strive towards health when it comes to their body image. God grant me the skill to guide them in this rocky journey, as my mother guided me. I am so VERY thankful for the impossible gift my parents gave me. I only hope I can do the same for my girls.   

“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'

I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." 

― Lewis Carroll


  1. I loved this! I do not have body issues either, but people always attribute this to me being "naturally" skinny. However, I am abraded with the popular campaign of "real women" models who look nothing like me. I actually to look similar to some models. Am I not a "real woman?". Also many skinny girls have body issues so I think you are correct. I think it is due how I was brought up. My mother is an artist and we had a multitude of art books that my sister and I regularly looked through. Friends of mine were always shocked that we were aloud to look at *gasp* naked people. Also my parents instilled a love of being active. Being bored was not aloud, and we were not aloud to watch TV when bored so we did not sit around often. This however had it's own set of problem when I hit my late teens. My body changed again! I acquired more weight around my hips and is my bosoms. It was shocking at first and I wondered if I needed to be exercising more or eating less. This is the only time I can remember truly having body issues. But then a strange phenomenon happened. I watched my first "sex scene" on a TV show. As the women on Dexer took her clothes off, I sat shocked for a moment. "What? wow she looks just like me!" I would never have known it with her clothes on! All my life I had been told to "cover my eyes" during these scenes so I realized that I had never seen a real life naked human since I was probably two (my mother)! So I think you are right about seeing the human body being very important. People will find fault where they are taught to find fault, beauty where they are taught to find beauty.

  2. Thank you. I love your perspective! I have actually noticed the variances of body shapes in Dexter and applauded them for their frank realism.- Game of thrones too. And just so you know, i will be quoting you soon on your last sentence. LOVE it!


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