Giving Kids a Healthy Message About Their Bodies

Upon licking that brown MAC eyeshadow..."Tastes like sugar!"

Upon licking that brown MAC eyeshadow…”Tastes like sugar!”

Today’s Thoughty Thursday post is about body image. Since last summer, I’ve been gathering articles on this topic and, with the new year, I think it’s time to share them.

So many people make resolutions about how they look. Hell, I used to make these resolutions. And this year, I just. . .didn’t.

Perhaps it’s because I’m older and a teensy bit calmer than I used to be. Maybe it’s because I’ve got other more important things to work on. [I’m taking Margie Lawson’s Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors course.] Most likely, it’s because I’m surrounded by people, especially at home and online, who value my inside image more than my outside one.

Whatever the reason, none of my New Year’s resolutions had to do with my body, except to start taking my vitamins again. (So far, I’ve only managed to get down Emergen-C and Baby Girl’s Mickey Mouse Gummies on a daily basis, but I’m doing it!)

Yesterday’s post from Kristen Lamb was a great one (go read it..we’ll wait):
Refuse to be Homogenized—Beauty, Bullying and Media “Mean Girls.”

One of my favorite paragraphs in the whole post? (And there were MANY.)

“But where I see the problem is, instead of being shown how to look great and age well, we’re brainwashed into believing we shouldn’t age at all. I have NO CLUE if I look good for my age. Everyone is Photoshopped or Botoxed. What does a healthy weight even look like?”

"Ooooh, PRETTY."

“Ooooh, PRETTY.”

My daughter’s a toddler right now, which means she’s fascinated by everything and everyone.

She loves bodily functions, waffles, princesses, her parents, and her own face. She’s developing a sense of style and her first thoughts about her body. We’re watching this process and doing our best to just get out of the way.

Most of all, I’m trying hard to provide her with better input and messages than I received.

I find myself looking at cartoons and magazines in a whole new way, and I’m not always quiet about it.

My husband laughed at how irate I got when we watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this year. I was angry at rude Daddy Donner for making Rudolph hide his glorious red nose. And I harangued over the fact that “Oh NOW they’re all madly in love with Rudolph…now that he has something they need. What a bunch of rude a-holes.”

He reminded me it was a cartoon, and Babykins wasn’t likely to pick up the same message.

Same thing when I ranted about Beauty and the Beast. “Really? So this nasty alcoholic kidnaps her and she falls in love with him, and trusts her love to CHANGE HIM? Really?!”

Yeah, I’m not very shy and retiring when it comes to these things.

Below are four posts on this topic that I loved and saved, just for you:

What say you, my More Cowbell posse? Some of you are raising young women and men, some of you are raising no one but yourselves. However all of you received messages growing up, about your body, what you put into it, and what you put on it.

Which messages do you look back on with gratitude and which messages tormented you for years? What would you recommend for shaping a healthy body image/attitude in a child? What did you find damaging? Enquiring minds always want to know these things here at More Cowbell!

~ Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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35 Responses to Giving Kids a Healthy Message About Their Bodies

  1. Sue says:

    Having struggled with body image a long damn time, I have a lot to say on this that won’t fit in a comment, so just thank you for bringing it up. It really needs to be addressed and it’s about time we, as women, get loud and proud and do something about it – because all the work we put in to stress to our daughters and sons about loving themselves for who they are is destroyed by the time they hit puberty because of what they see on tv, magazines, the internet, and especially the opinions of their peer groups. Ok- gotta shut up or this comment will turn into a ranting blog post.

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  2. K.B. Owen says:

    Good for you, Jenny! Rant on! I do it all the time in front of hubby and the boys. They know better than to objectify women’s bodies, and I’ve never heard them utter a derisive word about someone’s appearance.

    It’s also nice to see that my sons don’t consider it unusual for women to hold certain jobs/roles. When I was their age, that sort of thing was commented on all the time.

    P.S. – I’m trying to remember to take my calcium!

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Good girl, both in taking your calcium AND in giving your boys healthy attitudes about gender roles. And yes, *sigh* bodies and clothing were commented on ALL THE TIME as I was growing up. Mine and others. It wasn’t helpful at all, as I look back on it.

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  3. Lara McGill says:

    I decided to jump off that train this year, and wow, do I feel so much less stressed. I blogged a bit about it here http://laramcgill.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/new-years-resolutions/ . I can’t believe media thinks we’re so gullible as to fall for their crap every time. But, somehow, we do. Hmm. Need to think on that for a bit.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Good for you, Lara! And yes, I believe the media thinks we’re exactly this gullible. Unfortunately, they’re right most of the time. Can’t wait to read your post!

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  4. I was raised with the worst body image imaginable, which led to anorexia. I joke that I recovered too well from anorexia, but there is a bitter edge to that joke. I now just want to be healthy (and clot-free).

    I found I had to bite my tongue while raising my children. Their response when I said they looked nice, were pretty/handsome was often, “I know.” I shut off my childhood responses, smiled and said, “I’m glad you know.”

    My sons know my diatribe about women so well they tease me sometimes by saying outrageous things. When I look at them (you know, that *mother* look), they laugh boisterously, “Gotcha!”

    Great post, Jenny.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Ah, Elizabeth…being clot free is absolutely the goal, for both of us now. Good for you for biting your tongue. I’m working on that one myself.

      Fantastic comment!

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  5. Your daughter is so darn adorable!!!!! I am still vigilant and get crazy when comments are made, especially in front of both my kids (20&17). The other day my husband wanted to watch the Victoria Secret tv special and he said this in front of the kids. I am pretty sure my peering eyes killed him right there and then. I was SOOOOOO mad and forbid it from being on in this house! Had the kids not been home, I would have watched it with him just for ha has, but NO way do I want to endorse that to my kids!!!!

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  6. OH MY GOSH. I had the same response to Rudolph this year. Buttheads.

    Growing up I was never told I was pretty. I was funny. I was smart. I was ornery. I was tough. But I was never pretty. That did a number on my self-confidence, big time. It’s taken years of de-programming and loads of patience on the Hubster’s part to get me to not be afraid to look in a mirror.

    BOTTOM LINE: What you DON’T say to your kids is just as important as what you DO say.

    Love this post, so so much. Sharing!

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Glad that someone else got incensed about Rudolph with me!! And you’re right that what you don’t say is important because jeezy peezy, Myndi, I think you’re stunning. That Thomas Shafer knows he’s got a gorgeous wife…stop trying to talk him out of it.🙂

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  7. Emmie Mears says:

    Thanks for the link, Jenny!

    Two things:

    1. On Sunday during my lunch break at work, I went to a sushi buffet where I overheard a 3-4-year-old little girl very seriously tell her parents that only boys were allowed to sit with their legs open. That little girls couldn’t do THAT. She repeated herself several times, and I was incredulous enough that I turned around and probably gave her parents a very flabbergasted look. Then, because I’m me, I leaned back in my chair and took up more space, allowing my knees to splay. Because erm…eff that sentiment.

    2. A friend told me she’d finally gone to see Frozen and had taken her nephew, who wouldn’t admit that he liked it until someone clued him in that there were boys in it too. He’s six. The response when I rankled at that was, “Well, that’s just BOYS.” To which I said, “Boys become men.”

    My point? Kids are never too young to absorb messages that are harmful. Never. That little barely-past-a-toddler already intuited that boys are allowed to splay their legs, flop around, and take up space. Girls must not take up space. Not to mention the parts of that she likely doesn’t understand — that when girls and women open their legs, there are connotations.

    I know some grown men who won’t read books with female protagonists because they “can’t relate” and it’s “just a choice.” Not for everyone who isn’t a straight white man it’s not — everyone who’s not doesn’t have that ability to say, “You know, I’ll only read or consume media by and about people who look like me.” Already my friend’s nephew is saying things that, if he’s not challenged about now, could easily cement as an adult. Liking a movie about two sisters (a complex, well-written, layered, powerful movie) is embarrassing because he’s a boy.

    Both of these things occurred in the last four days, and I’ve been pondering them ever since. My thought? Don’t be afraid to talk in a way you don’t know if your little one understands. Surround her with thoughts of a world the way you’d like it to be. She’ll find out how the rest of it is soon enough. Challenge her. Ask her questions. Because she’s a thought-soaking sponge right now, and you are a goddess in her eyes. My heart broke a bit when I heard that tiny girl seriously informing her parents about gender roles.

    Sorry for the long comment — you erm…caught me in a week where this was on my mind already.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      We never mind long comments over here. But Lordy, that makes me so sad for both those kids. They’re both growing up thinking their gender limits them in some way. Dang.

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  8. I struggled with my weight from the time I hit my teens, and I was told over and over that I would be so pretty if I just “slimmed down.” So the message I got during those formative years is that I wasn’t pretty, and I couldn’t hope to be unless I was rail thin. The thing is, I come from a long line of women on both sides of my family tree who possess curvy hips and thighs, and no woman in my family has ever found a bra that will allow us to wear a button-up shirt without it gapping open in the front. No matter how much I dieted and exercised, my body wasn’t built to be rail thin, ergo – I would never be “pretty.” There followed decades of yo-yo dieting and obsessing about the number on the scale, because a lower number meant I was getting closer to being pretty. I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to just give up, but at some point I did. Those hips and thighs I’d been genetically “blessed” with weren’t ever going to look like those air-brushed magazine models, so why bother? I wasn’t ever going to be pretty, so I would just be fat and buy the ugly clothes manufacturers make for ugly women and that are stocked in a hidden corner of the store so they won’t offend regular shoppers. Then several years ago I stepped on the scales for the first time in forever, and realized I was straddling the line between being overweight and being obese. I sat down on the bed and thought it over, and decided I was tired of being tired all the time. I was fed up with not being able to walk very far without getting winded or having my knees hurt from carrying around that extra weight. Forget feeling pretty; I just wanted to feel good. So I changed the way I ate, and the pounds started coming off. I’d run into people at the store or wherever, and they’d say, “Oh my gosh! You look so good!” At first I just responded with “Thank you,” but then I started getting tired of those back-handed compliments. I know these people didn’t mean them that way, but that’s what they were. So the next time someone told me that, I put on a confused look and said, “What, I didn’t look good before?” Deer in the headlights. I know it wasn’t the most tactful way for me to go about it, but I was kind of fed up with years of being made to believe that women are cows unless they’re super skinny.

    My daughters heard the same things about weight as I did, but I did everything I could to instill in them the knowledge that being healthy meant more than a number on a scale, and no matter what, they are beautiful. I thank God that they don’t obsess about their weight or the way clothes fit them. They inherited those hips and thighs and boobs, and no clothes are ever going to fit the way society tells them they should. My girls are healthy and happy, and the only time they talk about dropping a few pounds is when it affects the way their body feels, not the way they feel about their body. Recently my youngest was sick from flu, and her weight dropped to where she was almost too thin. When she went back to work some of her co-workers told her she looked so good! Her response? “You think so? I think I need to gain a few pounds.”

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Julie, I’ve never understood WHY they make those button up shirts for women. I can’t wear them without a safety pin either, and even then, I think they make a busty woman look dreadful. I grew up with that thin message, along with a size 0 best friend, so I understand.

      I’m delighted that you helped the next generation appreciate their own beauty. I hope they’ve helped you appreciate yours.🙂

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  9. tomwisk says:

    Jenny, I always hated my body. I was a “husky” kid. That’s what they called it back in the day. Now they have another term like “calorically impaired”. I hit the diet in October and the gym in November. It works. People either distorted my body image or I just accepted it. When you’re a tyke you can accept how you look because you don’t judge, everything is new and interesting. As children grow older we often try to impose the “norm” on them. Everybody can’t wear designer jeans or be rail thin. We should instill the belief that you should be healthy. I remind myself of that every time I’m on the treadmill walking between two gym rats thirty years younger than I am and running their Spandex clad butts off.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      WOW, good for you, Tom, running their asses off. I love that image.🙂 But I’m sorry to hear you spent a lifetime hating your temple, so to speak.

      Some of us are just big people. As we always say in my family: we’re built to plow the fields, not just walk on them.

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  10. Beautiful post, Jenny. I committed to never saying a negative thing about my body around other girls or women a long time ago, which actually helped put those negative thoughts at bay. The better the examples we set, the better off we all are. Your little girl is so lucky to have you!

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  11. Strangely enough, I think religion saved me from getting too worried about body image. From the time I was very small I remember my mom telling me, “your body is a temple.” She also was big on, “God made you in his image.” I don’t think I realized at the time the gift she gave me by constantly repeating those things to me. Sure, I’ve got parts I don’t like. We’ve discussed my prior issues with my feet/toes on my blog. But overall, the thing those statements told me is that I was designed in the image of my creator and he doesn’t make mistakes. I’m exactly who I was meant to be. The important things I remembered were to respect myself like I was a temple. Choose wisely who and what I let enter my sacred ground (IYKWIM). So I also understood that it was important to maintain my temple with exercise, be a bit selective about the foods I ate, and especially selective about boyfriends. The other positive of this sort of message to me was that my mom was telling me that anyone who dared to “defile” my temple (especially when I was a child) should be told “No!” then reported.

    As for the way Rudolph was treated? That always pissed me off. Even as a kid. (Isn’t it strange, though, that I never saw the Beast as a raging alcoholic?)

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I love this comment, Kitt! I just love it. You’ve got your body as a temple, and an IYKWIM, all in the same package.🙂

      And yep, watch that movie again — he does sit and drink and he does exist in bad humor ALL THE TIME. At the very least, he’s abusive as hell. But her love “heals him.” I do love that Belle though.

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  12. Sharla Rae says:

    I totally agree with you take Jen on how we perceive ourselves through eyes of others, including Rudolf.🙂 In my family I was always the short chubby one–I still grit my teeth over ” . . . can tell she is a Midwestern corn-fed girl.” Gr-r-r-r. Then I also had to listen to phrases of my sister — she’s so tiny and elfin like, so cute. Sadly, it pitted us against each other. Now that she’s older, she says she felt like the picked on one because in high school although thin, she was nearly 6 ft. tall. We are the best of friends now and old enough to realize our parents, grandparents and aunts etc. ought have have had their mouths washed out with soap. My 6 year old grandson just got his first pair of glasses. We told him how handsome and smart he looks and he won’t take them off.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Oh, I need to see that boy in glasses. I’ll bet he looks fabulous.

      It’s so interesting to hear you say this, my beauty queen friend. We never know how others actually see us, do we?

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  13. The Regular Guy NYC says:

    I grew up with an Italian mom and that side of the family always made us eat. There was always someone pushing food on us. Bad food. I was a fat kid when young and when I got older I decided to get in shape. I never want to go back to that part of my life when other kids made fun of me or I was picked last to be on the team in gym. Men also have body issues just as bad as women do. Some work through it and recover while many still suffer in silence. Now it’s the media and tv and magazines that send the wrong message to our youth and public.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      It’s so interesting to find out how others grow up, Phil! Looking at buff, bada$$ you, I wouldn’t have guessed that you were ever the last guy on the team That’s grit and determination, and I’m proud of you.🙂

      All that being said, we adore you because of the groovy guy on the inside!

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  14. “…some of you are raising no one but yourselves.” Now why did I pick out this phrase? I don’t know, but it struck my funny bone. lol. This post hits on so many peeves I felt when raising our sons. I, like you Jenny, would rant about the same things. Especially when I knew that my boys were at an age when they would be influenced by negative, suggestive messages. Okay, I’ll admit that I was a strict mom. I watched very carefully what my kid’s minds took in. You have to. They’re walking sponges! And this is why I didn’t feel that all Disney movies were so innocent. Hubby and I were very picky when it came to entertainment and peers. Because it isn’t really all about external body image. What goes into those little minds may fester and produce negative emotions. It’s counter-productive and it isn’t worth it after you’ve spent countless hours building up your child’s self-worth. Unfortunately, we cannot isolate our children and keep them in a safe bubble or I would have done it. lol. But we can do our best to insulate them with layers of love, attention, parental instruction and shared experience.🙂

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL, Karen. I think it takes a long time for some of us to raise ourselves.🙂

      Yep, I’ve seen all sorts of things I hated in Disney movies, so we make sure we talk about it a lot. I have no idea what messages the Little Bean will retain, but we try to praise her about the things she has control of.

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  15. The .saddest thing I heard recently from my 12 YO granddaughter?

    “I hate my baby pictures. I was so fat in them!”

    She doesn’t diet. She doesn’t have to because she’s physically active. So, she has no body image issues with her current self. It’s that one-off comment about her baby pictures that made me shudder. She’s every bit as adorable in her baby pictures as your own babykins.

    What worries me is the messages she’s obviously receiving from her peers and media about what makes a girl/woman acceptable to themselves and in the eyes of others. Her mom (my DIL) is genetically wired to be plump and beautiful, but she constantly diets to regain her high school size 4 figure. My granddaughter obviously takes a body image message from that.

    Me? Growing up? I never felt happy with my body. I am good friends (no benefits!) with my old high school sweetheart. In a recent discussion, I discovered he saw a different “me” than I saw. He thought I was pretty damn perfect back-in-the-day.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Oh my, Lord. I remember being that sort of pre-teen. Constantly worried about all the defects I imagined I had. Like you, looking back, particularly through the eyes of others? I didn’t really have all that many defects. But it’s what’s in our minds that counts the most.

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  16. LOL! I ranted the same way about Rudolph’s daddy this year! And I DO think children pick up on the idea that his daddy was ashamed of him.

    By the way, I’m teaching my time and project management class again starting today, (http://www.occrwa.org/onlineclassJan14.html ) and I’m once again sending writers to your Technology Fun section for help. 😀 Great stuff, Jenny!

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