Sometimes I need a filter between my brain and my mouth.
This is not the way to get one.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

'D' is for...?

"...I'm a lady. And, with that comes an estrogen- fueled need to page through thick glossy magazines that make me hate my body." Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory.
This is pretty standard for being female - magazines, marketing, friends and family all have their own opinions on how we should look and what we should be doing to make this 'perfection' happen.

In my experience, my self-loathing didn't start until I was in highschool and suddenly the need to be skinny and blonde was bigger than the need to breathe. Cleo, Cosmo, Girlfriend Magazine and every single advertisement for clothing I saw told me that being short, chunky and not a platinum blonde meant my value as a person was negligible.

Sad, but true. And I have no doubt that my experience is similar, if not the same, as 90% of women out there...the 90% of us that don't fit the stereotype.

I hate that grown women are subjected to this kind of stupidity, and I'm always thrilled that people like Dani from Danimezza, Melissa from Suger Coat It and Nikki from Styling You are doing more and more to show the world that everyone can look and feel amazing, because they are. Full stop, no returns.

So when I was flicking channels and I came across a documentary on Austar titled 'Diet Crazy Mums', I thought it must be something about women losing the baby weight regardless of what it took. I was expecting to see women on a variety of diets and, when they didn't get the results they wanted, having their mummy-tummy's (and anything else that might have the slightest jiggle to it) liposuctioned, nipped and tucked with a few breast enhancements thrown in for good measure.

What I wasn't prepared for was a program that has the following prologue: "This documentary follows three mothers who are obsessed with counting calories and exercise and are teaching their children how to diet from a young age. The show also looks at how the mothers' lifestyle affects their children's views on body image and food. All the women featured believe they're doing the best for their children - despite facing increasingly harsh criticism from those who don't share their attitudes towards parenting."

Now, I'm all for parents taking an active role in their children's nutrition and health - hello, it's a part of being a parent in the first place. If nutrition and health were irrelevant, the breast-Vs-bottle war would never have got off the ground, much less have the polarising effect is does. But I do object to forcing your own body-issues on to your six year old.

I have never met a six year old girl who would respond to the question "Do you think there's anything wrong with the way you look?" with "I'm fat, and that's the truth." It's horrifying! I would be devastated if I thought anything I said or did made my little girl think she was anything but perfectly normal. At six years old, there is no need to be aware of 'thin' or 'fat' or to know what a bloody calorie is - for goodness sake, I'm 28 and I have no idea about calories, kilojoules or whatever they're called - they are just words written on the sides of packaging.

Miss 3 is allowed to eat whatever she would like to - within reason. I won't let her have a bag of lollies for dinner, but just because I'll let her have a few lollies over the passage of the day doesn't make me some kind of non-caring mum who's happy for her child to live on sugar. All it means is that I'm doing my best to teach her moderation and that we need to have a mixture of foods in our diet. If she tells me she wants a pear and some Jatz crackers for lunch, then fine, I'm not going to stress myself out over it.

All kids go through stages where they just won't eat anything other than a specific food, and working through this stage with your child can mean making some compromises on both sides  - they can have their coveted chicken nuggets, but they won't be allowed any dessert because they're not eating any vegetables. And if you ask me, it's a win win situation because a) you know your child has eaten and b) you're teaching them that they can't live on chicken nuggets and if they're not prepared to eat the healthy stuff, then there's no way the treats will be making an appearance.

I don't think, however, that just because a mother might have a terrible self-image that she should be subjecting her child/ren to calorie restricted diets, exercise regime's and constant weigh-in's. If a parent has genuine concerns about their child's health, there are ways to go about resolving those concerns without creating a home-based 'fat camp'.

One mum put her 2 teen-aged daughters on a strict diet that she followed herself, and would harrass them to be doing time on the treadmill everyday. The mum openly admitted that she was going to bed hungry and would constantly wake up in the night as a result. So, as much as I totally agree that physical activity of some kind on a daily basis is great, why should her daughter's want to slog it out on a treadmill when they're probably starving and have no energy as a result? Needless to say one daughter gave up quite quickly, while the other continued to try and meet her mum's expectations.

Giving your child an unhealthy relationship with their body and food from the moment you can make them understand is going to do more harm than the odd burger ever will. Kids are just that - kids. And they want to be able to experience things, do what their friends do and just have fun. Why ruin that by instilling fears in them that are unjustified?

There are enough hurdles to jump in life regarding appearance that our children will have to face - you want your child to be able to come to you for support and encouragement, not look at you as part of the problem.

As Miss 3 grows and begins to absorb these things on her own terms, I will discuss it all openly, but the message I will be passing on at every stage will be that she is wonderful just as she is and nothing on the outside is more important than what's on the inside.

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