When I was in my third year of university I shared a house with a girl, lets call her Anne.
Our housemates were a couple of rather straitlaced boys who kept themselves to themselves so Anne and I had to make our own fun most of the time. We were doing different degrees so we didn’t see much of each other during the day, but in the evening we used to go to the pub together quite a lot, and of course the proximity and the alcohol lead to some interesting conversations.
I’ve always been on the larger side ( although, looking back on photos, I wasn’t as big then as I imagined I was!) and was pretty obsessed with body size and image at that stage of my life. Anne, on the other hand, was shorter but quite muscular and very athletic – she played a lot of sport; hockey, rowing, that kind of thing. She wasn’t thin anyhow, which was what we were all aiming for back then.
So one night we were talking about things and there was an article in a magazine about what body part various women would change if they could. Anne looked at the article and said that she wouldn’t change anything about her body. It was strong and healthy, and allowed her to play sport and live her life. She liked it just the way it was.
I had never met a woman who totally accepted her body before. Everyone I knew was always on a diet, watching what they ate and openly admitted that they felt there was some part of them that could do with improvement.
Part of me was in shock that someone could be so at ease with themselves, but another part of me thought ‘ If I ever have a daughter, I hope they feel the same way about their bodies as this woman does.’
Unfortunately it’s a good 20 years since I last saw Anne, so I have no idea if she ever had children of her own to pass her awesome body acceptance on to. I suspect that, in this day and age, a mother’s acceptance of her own body isn’t enough to protect her children against the media tide that tells us that We Are Not Good Enough.
I have three daughters, aged 7. 9 and 11. All three of them have already expressed concerns that they are fat at some point, even though we don’t talk about body size, weight or diets in this house. We don’t have crappy magazines in the house either, so this kind of attitude comes from books, school and TV. It’s a hard attitude to crack.
Yesterday someone posted this article on my FB page. If you have children, you should read it.
I know this is an affliction that is supposed to affect mainly girls but actually, body dissatisfaction issues are becoming more common in boys as well these days.
The article talks about why body dissatisfaction begins to occur in adolescence, especially in girls. Young children don’t worry what they look like, they just enjoy moving their bodies and focus what they can make their bodies do. But as they grow older, they begin to worry about how they appear to others, and that’s when they start to develop a negative relationship with their body. However, it has been shown that girls who participate in organised sport or any physical activity have more appreciation of how their body works and are also more satisfied with not just how their bodies look, but also how they function.
The paradox is, that as girls go through puberty, they are less likely continue with sports or activities that would give them more confidence about their bodies. Reasons for refusing to take part in active movement include feeling self-conscious about their bodies, a lack of confidence in their physical abilities and their opinion that playing sport ‘ feels unfeminine’. Other girls have issues with the ‘uniform’ required by some activities such as swimming, athletics and gymnastics.
Parents can play a big part in encouraging girls to participate in exercise.
First of all, they can provide comfortable clothing that take their daughter’s bodies off display.
Secondly, they need to talk to their girls about what physical strengths the individual has and what she enjoys, there is no point in pressuring a girl to play a sport they hate.
Finally, remember that an activity doesn’t need to be organised to be beneficial. Any activity that encourages girls to move their bodies will be beneficial.
It may also be worth making sure you are setting a good example and participating in sports or exercise yourself, no matter what the size or shape of your own body is.
Moving our bodies, and concentrating on what they can do rather than what they can’t benefits everyone, not just our children.