A few weeks ago I was listening to my daughter practising her GCSE mock English Oral. They each had 5 minutes to talk about any topic of their choosing. My daughter's chosen topic - 'How Disney Princesses affect how girls feel about their body size'. Okay, I may be biased but seriously this girl rocks - she is passionate about positive body image, the role of media in the lives of girls today, and her talk was bloody brilliant. Packed full of statistics that showed how so many young girls today feel that the impossibly thin image of a Disney Princess is something to aspire to and how this view impacts their lifelong idea of what beauty is. It is really quite scary. And whilst I love Disney films (the new Beauty and the Beast is seriously so good) I do think that we all have a responsibility to ensure that girls and women are properly represented in film, tv, books etc. Heroines don't just come in a size 6!
And the best way we can help our own daughters have a healthier relationship with their own body?
Learning to love our own.
No matter what age we are the most complicated and turbulent relationship we will ever experience is often the one we have with our own body - and, for many of us, it can be a lifetime of turbulence and flaw-finding. This seemingly inevitable and constant nit-picking about ourselves and how we look is based on...well, what exactly? Some strange idea of what is perfect? An idea that is perpetuated by brands such as Disney, an idea of perfection that is constantly changing so we, of course, can never keep up. We only have to look to the world of art to see how much the idea of female beauty has changed over the centuries, and in the film world even Marilyn Monroe might have found herself pressurised to lose weight in today’s Hollywood environment.
Once we move past those early carefree years of childhood and enter puberty (which are considerably less carefree today - a recent study found that girls as young as 6 now worry about being fat!), we can get caught in the trap of feeling as though our body is never quite right, it is never quite good enough, it never quite does what we want it to do. Our thighs are too big or have too much cellulite, our boobs are too small or too big, we’re too short, too tall…too something. Aargh! It’s enough to drive us crazy…and sometimes it does.
So is it possible to change that mindset? Once we reach 40 and beyond is it possible to learn to accept our body as it is right now, today, and stop berating ourselves for not being ‘good enough’? To find some peace with our shape and size. I really hope so and am definitely working on it. The irony is of course that we end up wishing we had the body we had 5, 10, 20 years ago…you know, the one that we didn’t appreciate at the time. Fast forward in your mind and you can see that the odds are that one day you will be wishing for the body you have right now. Even if it is a bit wobbly or has stretch marks or is less than ‘perfect’ I’m pretty sure that at the age of 80 you will be able to look back and see the beauty you possess today. How wonderful it would be if we could look at ourselves today with those eyes.
The reality is that only when we accept our own body can we inspire our daughters to love their own. So why not try and see that beauty now.
Here are a few things that might help.
Treat your body with respect. Eat well. Exercise to keep healthy – forget about size and weight, we all come in different shapes and sizes, just enjoy having more energy and strength to enjoy your life and create more memories and adventures. That is what really matters as you get older, not what number is on the label in your clothes.
Get comfortable being naked. There is no doubt that a woman who is comfortable in her own skin is truly sexy and beautiful and yet so many of us hide away, worried about what our partners think, saddened by what we ourselves think. There is so much deep confidence that comes with learning to love and accept your body as it is. Getting undressed with the lights off is a no-no. Avoiding looking at yourself in the mirror is another no-no. When we learn to love our own body we can experience a new sense of confidence, a new level of self-belief, a deeper feeling of self-worth and love which can take our lives to another level of happiness and fulfillment. It's not your size that is sexy, it's your attitude.
Pamper your body. Anyone who has ever had a spa day complete with full body massage and manicure/pedicure knows how amazing their body feels afterwards. You feel more sensual, more appreciative and more confident about your body. Everything feels relaxed and alive at the same time. Don’t wait for a rare spa day. Use a great body lotion every day, do your nails, indulge in a DIY foot scrub once a week. Take long bubble baths with candles, wear clothes you love, dress up, and get your hair done. Whatever makes you feel like a million dollars is worth it. When you take care of your body like this your appreciation for it grows and so does your confidence.
Have great sex. If you don’t feel great about your body after sex than something ain't right sister. Great sex should make you feel like a goddess. You should feel like the most beautiful, desirable woman in the world (and have been told that you are) and if you don’t then you need to work out why, because you are missing out on one of the great pleasures of life.
Be your own Best Friend- Talk to yourself about your body in the same caring, gentle, supportive way that you would talk to your best friend about her body. I'm pretty sure that there is no way you would say the things to her that you say to yourself. Next time you look in a mirror or have a negative thought about your body ask yourself 'would my best friend say this?' and then talk to yourself with the same acceptance and love that a true best friend would use. (If you would like to learn more about Being your Own Best Friend then you might enjoy the book I wrote a couple of years ago on this very topic)
I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to love the body you have now in the comments below. Oh, and if you're wondering, she smashed her talk and made her teacher cry with pride...and the subject for her actual Oral exam....'Why every teenage girl should be proud to be a feminist' - told you she was pretty awesome.