I have a neighbor who claims that she never looks at herself in the mirror if her daughters are around. Extreme? Maybe. But it does seem like a smart way to help instill what I think is a healthy “who cares” attitude about looks and body image in children.
As a busy Mom and a Northern California gal who just can’t be bothered with a lot of make-up and hassle about my appearance, I feel like I have a pretty sensible attitude about my looks. But then I remember the teenage years and my early twenties. That was a time of extreme insecurity about looks as well as an unhealthy focus on my weight and my appearance. I wonder if there is any way to help my own daughter (and even my son) avoid the pitfalls I fell into in those years? Or is this something all adolescents and young adults have to go through?
Reading the book “It Started with Poptarts” by Lori Hanson (for the SVMoms Book Club) was a dark detour into the mind of a bulemic, albeit a recovered one. Some of the passages where she wrote about bingeing on junk food and then falling into a cycle of regretting it and berating herself afterward brought back painful memories of my own struggles. If I close my eyes, I can remember exactly how it felt to notice my body changing as a teen. It seems as though it only took a few months to morph from a long skinny beanpole who could eat anything she wanted to an overly sensitive 16-year old who frantically dieted on baked potatoes and cottage cheese to fit into my Size 4 prom dress.
Lori Hanson’s solution to her bulimia and alcoholism lay in self-help books, tapes, exercise regimes and a full range of alternative medical programs, healing massage therapy, unusual diets, and the like. My own struggles with weight and body image somehow sorted themselves out over time without any major interventions. My problems were not extreme, and for that I am grateful.
But the Mom in me wonders if there’s a way to pass on healthy notions about fitness, physique and diet to my kids and spare them the agony of yo-yo dieting and mental recriminations for gaining a few pounds here and there? So far, the best I can come up with is to encourage my kids to be as active as possible and to take an interest in sports. And maybe one of these days, I’ll even stop glancing in the mirror before I leave the house.