Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wijvenweek - Body Images

Click here for more Wijvenweek posts.

Nat's post inspired me to talk about women and weight as part of Wijvenweek. Although, it should be noted that she is one of many bloggers tackling the issue of weight.

I'm always uncomfortable tackling this subject because I've never had major problems with my weight, and I fear other women's hatred because of that. I generally try to shy away from the topic after learning from experiences that bemoaning any body issues out loud could cause usually normal, happy women to hiss and roar at me.

However, contrary to some people's opinions, I am not a beanpole. I have curves, and not always in the right places. Particularly now in my thirties (and being in a job that has me sitting on my rear most of the time in front of a computer), it's not as easy as it used to be. Again, please don't read this as a complaint. It's just a fact of life.

But that's just a little background, not the main point of this post at all. I want to talk about raising girls with a healthy outlook on weight, and their bodies in general.

They're both in good shape, and I don't really worry about them yet, but I worry about the messages they're getting from everywhere else.

I worry about "America's Next Top Model" (as Nat mentioned) and the images that we have all around us of what being beautiful is supposed to look like. I worry that the focus on the problem with obesity in America is going to turn them into anorexics in order to avoid it. I worry that they will not remain as active as they are right now naturally and will obsess about their weight, food, etc. I worry about them being raised here in "LaLa Land" where there are always 10 more women in the vicinity that are skinnier, taller, and better dressed than you. (At least, that's been my experience.)

I try to keep the girls' focus on eating healthy because it's good for you, and staying away from unhealthy foods because it's bad for you, not because it'll make you fat. I also believe that trying to instill moderation is key. I don't ban all sugar or fast food because I don't want them to feel completely deprived. My own experience was that I was almost never allowed to have soda growing up. I remember my first few shopping trips as an adult, I felt like I was doing something wrong by buying the soda. Then, I embraced the freedom and became a bit of a soda-holic. I think too much deprivation can lead to over-indulgence later.

I never use food as a punishment or reward. I have no rules about having to finish dinner. We also don't have dessert every night. They're allowed to have candy and soda at parties. They are allowed to have Hansen's natural sodas at home a few nights a week. If they are still hungry after dinner, they're allowed to snack on carrots.

I don't ever try to focus on their weight. I try to concentrate on the substances that they're putting in their bodies rather than the look of their bodies themselves. I explain that too much sugar will make them too hyper, or vegetables will help them grow stronger. It's never about what will make them "fat" or keep them "skinny."

Luckily, I still don't have any worries about the amount of exercise they get. They dance, jump rope, run, etc. as much as humanly possible. Both of their schools have PE, plus they go hiking and running with my parents.

However, this is all very early in the game. They're not yet adolescents, and I worry about the peer pressure they'll encounter. I don't remember where I read this, but I do recall reading that peer pressure has been proven to be more influential during the teen years than parents. I don't necessarily worry about this by itself, but to completely dismiss peer pressure as a valid problem would be naive.

More than anything, I worry about my ability to be effective if it ever is a problem because of my lack of understanding.

I watched the Miss America pageant for years, but I always knew in my heart that I was just not one of those types of girls so it was never an aspiration. Nor was being a model. I played Barbies obsessively as a kid, but they were so unreal-looking to me that I never thought of them as role models. Mainly, they were just the "actors" in my plays that I wrote, directed, and produced :) As an actress, I was always going out on auditions where the character breakdowns included the words "off-beat looking" so I never thought of myself as beautiful, or that beauty was something I needed to protect against all odds.

I never thought of myself as anything other than average as a woman. There are times, sure, when I've felt beautiful, sexy, ugly, overweight, etc. But they were all fleeting moments that didn't hold a lot of value to them.

What was always more important to me was what was on the inside. Have you ever noticed how certain people become more or less attractive to you the more you get to know them? That was what I kept as my focus. That's what I have to keep my focus on for the girls, too, I guess.


Anonymous said...

April -- You are doing an amazing job with those girls!!! It sounds like you are doing all the right things, going about them in all the right ways.

As much as I'd love to have a little girl, I have often been thankful that I won't be faced with so many of these issues. And if I were, I don't think I'd be able to handle it as well as you are.

Keep up the amazing work on those beautiful girls of yours!!!

Kori said...

You have the right attitude for your girls AND yourself. Hannah is bemoaning the fact that her butt is getting bigger right now-but it isn't, she is finally getting HIPS!-and it makes me sad that we live in a world where this lovely, active, healthy girl worries that she is getting fat. Great post!

Tara R. said...

I believe that what we mothers convey to our daughters will be more of an influence than what they see on TV. If we have good self images that will be the role model they look to.

To read some great stories about this same topic, check out Kelly at Ordinary Art -

KG said...

You know, I really think it's something inherent in the girl that either makes her obsess over body issues or not. Oddly, my mother weighs about 110 lbs soaking wet and she has ALWAYS obsessed over her weight (and encouraged me to diet even when I was around 11 or 12 years old) and yet I never had body issues. But I think you're doing a good job with them!

KG said...

You know, I really think it's something inherent in the girl that either makes her obsess over body issues or not. Oddly, my mother weighs about 110 lbs soaking wet and she has ALWAYS obsessed over her weight (and encouraged me to diet even when I was around 11 or 12 years old) and yet I never had body issues. But I think you're doing a good job with them!

OHmommy said...

You are doing a great job. I often have the same worries.

There is so much more on TV and internet then there was when we were growing up. We didn't even halk 1/3 of the magazines out there.

Remember TEEN BEAT. LOL, things were so different.

Anonymous said...

Ug, it's not easy, is it?? I worry about those same things myself with my daughter. But I think you're on the right track. Teach them to put good things into their bodies because it's what their bodies need to function. Junk food occasionally and in moderation. They'll be okay.

And yes. We hate you for being skinny. (okay, not really...but you seemed to expect it so I had to put it in there! lol)

LunaNik said...

I'm just going to parrot everyone else and say what an amazing job you're doing with your daughters. They are lucky to have a mom as level headed as you are.

I can only hope that I can be the same strong role model for my daughters that you are for yours.

Fingers crossed that I don't f*ck them up royally.

Melissa said...

I worry about that with my little girl. I haev seen so many girls get wrapped up in their body imagine. Even me. My husband and I just went through a hard patch because I was getting depressed because I was wrapped up in my body. It has been crap since giving birth. I don't want her or other girls to go through that!

Anonymous said...

You have got a good head on your shoulders! Health is so much more important than actual numbers and you are doing a wonderful job with your girls. I wish I could say the same thing about our habits.

Anonymous said...

April, there is nothing I really worry about quite as much raising a girl as how she will perceive herself in this world that requires women to be emaciated to be considered beautiful.

The only thing I can do is lead by example. I'm athletic. I never really sit still. I do yoga and kung fu multiple times a week and I whole heartedly refuse to diet. I know my choice of lifestyle isn't for everyone, but I want my daughter to understand that living well means you don't have to diet and that being happy with yourself is much more important than how you look.

Anonymous said...

Great post-and you are doing a great job!
I have to make a very conscious effort not to pass my body issues on to my girls-so far so good.
Health is so much more important than weight/looks, etc.
Thanks again

Cheffie-Mom said...

Sounds to me like you are doing a wonderful job teaching them the right and wrong ways to think about body image and the issues with it. I try to tell me daughter how beautiful she is and she had a good understand of the importance on being healthy...bc we have some health problems in my family she makes the choice to work out and be someone selective when she eats...but she still loves a good day of "vegging out" hehe!! I just love your blog and I am so happy I came across it! Hope you have a wonderful weekend :)

Anonymous said...

You have a great perspective and it sounds like you are teaching the right things. As girls and women we should understand that our bodies are unique on the outside and on the inside. We should figure out what our own best shape is and the best way to eat/exercise and supplements to take, unique to us. People should take more responsibility for their bodies!