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Robyn Margulis
Published: Monday, November 15, 2010
Robyn Margulis
Can body image be passed down from moms to daughters?

Does your body rock? When it comes to body image, it seems that most people think they could do better. They think they could look better if only they lost a few pounds or if some miracle pill would help them get thin.

There are some people who have a healthy, unapologetic image of their bodies. Those are the folks who celebrate their jiggly parts, despite a culture that suggests said jiggly parts are actually flaws that ought to be worked on.

I have never been one of those people. As long as I can remember, I have had issues with my body. It's funny, though, how the issues have changed over the years. When I was in my teens, I hated my nose and even as a teen I talked of getting a nose-job (I, quite obviously, never did). I also was very self-conscious of the beauty marks that could be found all over my body, especially those on my stomach and the one on the middle of my foot.

As a teenager and young adult, I had the body for a bikini, but would never wear one because I felt compelled to cover up a couple beauty marks. Now I look back and wonder, what the heck was I thinking? I would kill to have a bikini body again. And I could care less about those beauty marks.

My daughter hit the age where she started caring about her appearance. There was no transition. She went from jogging pants and ponytails to skinny jeans and hair straighteners. I watch her check her clothes in a full-length mirror before school, twisting and turning trying to get a glimpse of every angle. I cringe when she asks if her outfit makes her look fat. Of course she doesn't. She could wear a muumuu and would still look thin. Yet she worries that too-loose clothing makes her look big.

I wonder where that comes from, and then I remember about all of the times she's watched me looking in the mirror studying, primping, or complaining (especially about the extra weight I've put on over the last few years).

Is it peer pressure that causes vanity? Is it the message I've sent without even thinking about it? Perhaps a little bit of both.

Indeed, in the book "Good Girls Don't Get Fat: How Our Weight Obsession is Screwing Up Our Girls and What We Can Do to Help Them Thrive Despite It," author Robyn Silverman suggests that moms are part of the problem when it comes to teenage girls and body image. While we may not realize it, our own issues with weight and body image impact how our daughters see themselves. Silverman also suggests that moms who nag their teens about their eating habits may lead them to sneak food, or worse, develop an eating disorder.

How messages are worded also can play a part, according to Silverman. For instance, if your daughter is wearing a tight shirt, rather than saying, "Your belly is really sticking out. You should change that shirt," Silverman suggests, for example, a neutral reply in which you tell your daughter that she is "growing beautifully" and should try wearing something new that was purchased recently.

Silverman also speaks to what she calls the body bully within. In the group of girls with which she worked, most made comments that showed they were their own worst critics. She suggests that young girls and women have a bad habit of beating themselves up over the appearance.

An organization called Body Rocks (bodyrocks.blogspot.com) has dedicated its blogging pages to motivate young people to have a positive and healthy body image, while raising awareness about eating disorders. Body Rocks founder Ann Marie Perone encourages formal groups among teens that promote positive self-image, including hosting special days: Love Your Body Day, No Makeup Monday, Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and End Fat Talk Day. Body Rocks suggests that "fat talk" is particularly important and the group encourages taking words and phrases out of our vocabulary that serve to advance a negative self-image: "Do I look fat in this?" "If I could only lose 10 pounds." "Wow, you look great, did you lose weight?" These are all common phrases. In fact, I've uttered them myself. But these are the types of things that are said to, or in front of, our teens, that can really impact the way they see themselves in the mirror.

Women really do have a bad habit of self-deprecation. But I suppose we don't think much of it because we're beating ourselves up, not anyone else. It's important to realize, though, that we what we say and how we say it may be impacting the way our daughters see themselves. We should talk to our daughters about healthy living, while helping to build their self-esteem.

 



 

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