If you look around the health club, you will see all shapes and sizes. There are long legs, short legs, wide bodies, narrow bodies, young bodies and older ones. And the only perfect body is a healthy one, built on good nutrition and regular physical activity.
That’s not the image projected on TV and movie screens, of course, where all bodies are “perfect” all the time. If that’s the type of body you expect to see when you look at yourself in the mirror, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
More than 74 percent of normal weight college women admitted that they thought about body image “frequently” or “all the time,” according to one survey. And most of those thoughts were negative.
Body image is an important part of overall self-image, which, in turn, affects both mental and physical health. Even if you’re aware of your own tendency to obsess too much about your body, it’s important not to pass those worries along to your daughters.
During a time when they are undergoing major changes in their body shape and size, adolescents are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, media images and random comments from their friends. They can’t escape it, but there is no reason you have to compound the problem.
If you let the comments of friends and family get to you, they will continue to dig at your self-esteem and confidence and may even lead to anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
A young woman with an eating disorder looks in the mirror and sees a fat body rather than a thin one. Another possible consequence is body dysmorphic disorder. Women with this illness become preoccupied with a perceived flaw in their appearance to the point that they cannot function normally and may avoid all social situations.
What do you say to your daughter about body image? It doesn’t matter whether it’s positive or negative, every comment you make adds to the confusion. It’s better to say nothing but rather let your behavior do the talking for you.
If you’ve struggled with excess weight all your life, this may be difficult. Remember that your daughter will take note of your string of unsuccessful diets and your reaction to fats or carbs. “Don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter,” is the way one writer puts it.
Focus instead on modeling positive eating patterns–fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy snacks. Again, there is no need to talk; just keep your pantry stocked with healthy foods rather than chips and sugary drinks. Food should be seen as enjoyable and a chance to socialize with family and friends.
The other part of the formula is regular exercise. Whether it’s running, walking, swimming or cycling, be a role model rather than an advocate. Exercise because you enjoy it. While your personal goal may include losing weight, keep the body issues in the background and focus on building confidence and self-esteem.
If you’re interested in learning more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, please contact your Ministry Medical Group clinician, or visit http://ministryhealth.org/.