I’ve been thinking while on the treadmill about what to write about for my next column. I thought about the “selfies” being posted by various celebrities (and wannabees) to prove how “hot” they are. I was particularly appalled by the “selfies” posted by women who had just given birth days or weeks prior to show how great they look (flat abs, breasts pushed up, provocative poses).
I’ve been thinking while on the treadmill about what to write about for my next column. I thought about the “selfies” being posted by various celebrities (and wannabees) to prove how “hot” they are. I was particularly appalled by the “selfies” posted by women who had just given birth days or weeks prior to show how great they look (flat abs, breasts pushed up, provocative poses). What do children (especially adolescents) think about these (and other) images?
Before the Internet, when I was growing up, TV, movies and magazines comprised the images of what body shape was fashionable in the moment. From the curves of the ’50s, to Twiggy in the ’60s, the rise of the supermodels in the ’70s, the supposed curvier models in the ’80s and ’90s, and the grunge look (the models looked like heroin addicts). Today, the look is slim but fit, not too muscular with breasts that are larger then one’s hips. Every woman looks like that, right?
Well, wrong! We come in all shapes and sizes based on age, genetics, country of origin, eating habits, exercise, etc. I’m concerned that adolescent males have a very distorted image of what an adult woman is supposed to look like. And I’m not even talking about pornography here. Cosmetic procedures such as breast implants are being done on teenagers. They haven’t even stopped growing yet!
How do you raise a child (I include boys here as well) with a healthy body image? By modeling that for them. By educating them about what real people look like, and that it’s OK if you don’t look “perfect.” What is perfect? It depends on whom you ask. It changes based on factors such as culture. Don’t assume that kids know these things. It’s important to talk to them about this issue. It’s as important as the sex talks or talking about drugs and alcohol.
We all want what’s best for our children. Parenting is the hardest job out there, with so much to fear (including the fallout from the mistakes we parents make). By teaching our children about healthy lifestyle habits such as proper nutrition and exercise, we can cut down on the percentage of kids who develop eating disorders. The numbers are rising for both girls and boys who struggle with this. For many it’s a lifelong struggle with a potential for relapse during stressful life challenges.
My experience with body image as a ballet dancer, body builder, personal trainer and, now, post-menopausal woman has been interesting to say the least. When I was young, I never thought I looked good enough. Too short, thin, small breasts, big feet – this was what I focused on. I was involved in activities where how I looked was as important as how I performed.
My professional life as a personal trainer has been challenging (especially as I’ve aged). I’ve been a trainer for 33 years. I jokingly say I’ve had many different bodies during the years. Sometimes heavier (not optimal for a trainer) and sometimes lighter. The public perception of a personal trainer is someone who is young and buff! Well, we age just like everyone else (unless we die young).
For those of you who have followed my weight loss columns, I’m not shy about detailing my struggles with my weight. My goal is to be healthy. I’ve never had an eating disorder, but I have struggled with my body image. Most women have at one time or another.
What do we do as a society about this? We continue to talk to our children. We don’t focus so much on how people look. We talk more about other qualities that are important, like character. We teach our children to be kind and respectful by example. We try not to judge others based on how they look. Not everyone has the time, money and energy to eat nutritious food and go to a gym regularly.
There are no easy solutions for the distorted images that come our way through the Internet and other media. What’s important is to confront these unnatural images with images of real people. Real men and women of all ages and cultures who are healthy and enjoying their lives.
It’s really true what they say – practice what you preach. You’ll be setting a healthy example for your children.
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