Looking back on photos of myself a young girl, I was certainly curvaceous.
I loved food, particularly sweets, and would rather spend my time curled up with a good book instead of outside, playing with friends or working up a sweat.
But the interesting thing?
I never once recall feeling that self-critical feeling that is now all too familiar to me as a grown woman.
So What’s The Problem?
Working with tween and teen girls, it’s something I see all too often – our own lack of self-acceptance and low self-esteem becoming increasingly contagious to young girls.
Thinking back, I do, recall when it all begun for me.
And it begun with my mum.
My mum, always fine boned and spritely in her retro photo albums, has had a troubled battle with self-esteem.
I can recognise that now, as a grown woman myself, the conflict she has faced in loving her own skin, and feeling comfortable in her own body.
I can’t recall when her comments really started to impact me, but if I had to guess, I’d say around year 7.
This is ancient in contrast to the girls we work with at The Big Sister Experience who show signs of body dysmorphia or body image and self-esteem issues as young as Kinder or lower Primary School.
Even as a young girl, I could recognise my mum was thin.
Thinner than me.
Perhaps thinner than I ever would be.
It truly didn’t bother me at the time.
In fact, I kind of loved the fact that by grade 5 or 6 I was already outgrowing her clothes…
It didn’t bother me – until I started picking up that she was speaking so unkindly to herself; about her body.
The Little Things Matter
Little comments about needing to lose a few kilos before summer, her poking at her belly that homed 4 children and cursing the stretch marks, or even the time when she couldn’t zip up her favourite dress; and the tears that followed.
There were no obnoxious remarks about “hating” her body, yet subconsciously I learned that she was not good enough in her skin.
She didn’t feel happy about her weight.
She wished she was thinner.
And suddenly I found myself lying awake in bed one night, with the knowledge that mum was smaller than I, thinking, ‘if she’s not thin enough, then I am definitely too fat.’
And so, this is how it all too often begins.
The thing is – for us adults, we can rationalise that disliking parts of our bodies is part of being human.
We know that images in the media are often airbrushed and unrealistic.
We understand (albeit begrudgingly) that cellulite is normal.
But the way we speak about ourselves, and mostly the way we focus on these imperfections, is contagious to young girls who are already questioning every aspect of their changing minds and bodies.
As children, we are the purest form of innocence.
Children befriend others of mixed race, sexual preference or religion.
They forgive, they speak their mind, they regard their body with wonder and awe, fascinated by the things it can do and the way it grows and morphs.
So what changes?
It is not the child that becomes critical of themselves, but instead, the outside influences which the child begins to compare itself to.
How To Fix It
So, what can we do to combat this?
Fake it ‘til you[r child] makes it.
From when your child is infant, fill their subconscious mind with how much you love your body.
Do as Kate Winslet does, and stand in front of the mirror, with your daughter in earshot, and compliment your body.
Show gratitude for the fact you’re fit and healthy.
Praise the powers that be for your curvy thighs, your tummy that homed your babe with so much love and anticipation, for the arms that allow you to hug her tight.
Lead by example and teach her to love her own body, dimples, hair, warts and all.
Because if we want our young girls to grow up with self-worth, self-love and with a strong sense of identity, we need to be the ones leading by example.
And even if you are struggling to fit into your skinny jeans, remember that there are little eyes and ears soaking up every one of your actions; learning how to speak to herself, learning how to treat her body, learning the kind of language she will grow up to model.
So, fake it if you have to, and remember that our sense of self-esteem and self-acceptance is contagious to these young souls.
Written by The Big Sister Experience Team.
For an extra resource on how to talk to your daughter, read this: https://www.mamamia.com.au/kate-winslet-body-image-mantra/