Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
Why it’s necessary to promote a positive body image or body positivity to our daughters.
The moment my daughter, Miss R, came into this world, my heart was full. I always wanted a daughter, but more than that, I always wanted a daughter like her. Smart, courageous, confident and talented.
Being a mother to a daughter changed my entire worldview. I never wanted Miss R to go through the hurtful experiences that I'd gone through. And even though I know I can't always erase her pain; I can definitely help her minimize it by making sure she can cope confidently.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with visual appeal. We're bombarded by images and ideas of how we should look and think about ourselves. There's a particular standard that all women need to follow – one that falls under the category of petite. Anything that is categorized as "too skinny" or "fat" is clearly considered unacceptable.
When you catch a glimpse of your reflection in a mirror or see yourself in a tagged photo on Facebook, what's your first reaction? Do you immediately nod in appreciation at how amazing you look or negatively scrutinize every curve?
As women, we are expected to be perfect in every sphere of life. Not only are we anticipated to become neurosurgeons with a mansion and a Tesla, but we're also expected to be tall, thin and beautiful humans who can whip up desi (South Asian) dishes, like biryani any time of day.
Along with other things, this constant challenge to maintain a certain weight is incredibly demanding - more so than ever before. Which is why, as parents, creating a positive body image in our children has become a lot more complicated.
We know that nurturing a positive body image is crucial to helping not just our daughters, but also sons, in order to become healthy, well-rounded adults. However, our society seems to be fixated, more than ever, on youth and beauty. And for women, beauty is, more than ever, defined as petite, small, slender, slim or thin. Similarly, for young boys, the pressure to hit the gym and transform into Chris Hemsworth builds up from an early age. Yes, it is important to eat healthy nourishing foods, but that may not have anything to do with size. Not only is this narrative damaging to our childrens' self-esteem, but they might also come to see themselves as just a collection of body parts, which they then judge harshly. The sad part is that none of it relates to how wonderful they are as people.
Tips To Promote Body Positivity
So, the question then arises: how do we encourage a positive body image in our children - to ensure health and wellness?
First and foremost, we must introduce them to the concept of realism. This involves having a discussion about a body that is realistic and healthy, and not photoshopped to look glossy on a magazine cover. Simply put: they need to feel okay in the body they are blessed with and not let it overpower their sense of self-worth.
I do understand that it isn't easy to get to such a place. It takes time, patience and acceptance that your child may be feeling a certain way. It is also important to remember that at such a point, lecturing or using harsh language with your younglings will not be helpful. What's more impactful is engaging in empathizing discussion.
Start off by listening to your daughter or son's concerns, and acknowledge their feelings. Remember that for any child, the first form of acceptance comes from you, the parents! Talk to them about your own body insecurities as a child, so they understand it's not an unusual phenomenon. Your main aim should be to remind them how, ultimately, your body didn't define who you are and the kind of life you carved.
The other thing to help them with a positive body image is to lead by example. This is particularly significant for daughters. For instance, if a young girl hears her mum complain about looking "fat" every time she tries on a new dress, she will most likely mirror the same. It isn't body positive language. Instead, celebrate your curves and encourage your daughter to do the same! And remember, you are the first body positive model in your daughter's life.
It is also imperative to treat both your daughters and sons the same way. This is especially important for South Asian communities, which set different levels of expectations for both genders. For example, both should be encouraged to eat healthily, take part in sports and develop body positivity. Our sons are not an exception to the rule!
You can also try and have this as a dinner table conversation with your children! For example, when asked about three personal character traits, it'll be easy for them to jot it all down. However, it may be more difficult for them to find their physical appearances attractive, since we're so hardwired to find external, superficial faults from a young age. These helpful conversations will allow them to remain in touch with the topic and let you open up the discussion every now and then.
Another important aspect is to involve your significant other in healthy discussions regarding body positivity. Children often need to hear words of support from both parents, not just for how they look but also for their talent, creativity and different attributes.
Make sure to never play the comparison game, especially in front of your children! It's very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of comparing our physical appearances to that of another, and a surefire method of lowering our self-esteem. Instead, admire the good qualities in others and praise them. It'll encourage them and make you feel good too!
The body positivity movement embraces the philosophy that each one of us has the right to hold a positive body image, regardless of how societal norms and pop culture "see" size and looks. The body positivity movement's primary purposes comprise: denouncing the way our culture sees a person's body, raising the acceptance of bodies - of all shapes and sizes, supporting people to develop self-esteem and acceptance of their own bodies.
And last but not least, it's so important to build resilience in our daughters. She may not love every part of her physical appearance, but as parents, it is our responsibility to build their confidence up by reminding them that their problems are not hopeless. So, acknowledge their concerns by agreeing that what they are facing is tough; however, it is not something they cannot cope with.
Promoting a positive body image means helping our children feel beautiful overall – the whole, entire beings that they are. At the same time, it also means putting less emphasis on external beauty at the center of their identity. This will help transform them into confident adults who are comfortable in their skin, and are more able to hold their own in the "big bad world" that they need to thrive in.
As someone who also struggled with body image issues and now has a 17-year-old daughter, I am also committed to helping her overcome some of the negative thoughts I never could at her age. I know I can't protect my daughter completely, but I hope to narrate as many body positive messages as possible, so some of her insecurities are hopefully curbed. And even though it may be a challenging road, I promise to always lead by example and try my best.
How do you practice being body positive? Who are your favourite body positivity influencers? Let me know in the comments below!
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Shahzadi is an award-winning registered dietitian (RD) regulated by the College of Dietitians of Ontario and certified diabetes educator (CDE), approved by the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board. A YouTuber and notorious foodie, she's dedicated to helping you end your cooking wars, transform your health, and be the best version of yourself! Shahzadi is an on-air nutrition expert for CTV Your Morning and a regular contributor for Global News and other national media outlets.