I recently read a story about a dad whose 8-year-old son was starting to feel insecure about his body. His son had a large birthmark on his chest that embarrassed him. He stopped going to the pool with his friends and didn't want to take off his shirt. The father responded to his son's growing insecurities in a beautifully, outrageous way. He went to a tattoo artist where he had a replica of the birthmark tattooed on his chest. It was precisely the right message when his son started to feel insecure about his body -- his father doubled-down on his appreciation for how his son is. You can see the story for yourself here.
Think back to when you started to feel insecure about your body. Was there someone in your life who encouraged you to appreciate your natural self? I was worried about my nose as a child. I repeatedly asked my mother to let me get a nose job. But she always responded by saying, "Nope, you're perfect as you are." Looking back, I appreciate her response. But, weight was a different matter in my childhood home. When I was teased about my size in my preteen years, my mother promptly took me to a diet center. There, I learned how to hustle for my worth, as Brené Brown puts it, by trying to reshape myself into a better form. My first diet was supposed to last ten weeks. I would diet and exercise myself into a perfect form and stay there forever -- at least, that's how the diet counselor made it seem. But my ten-week diet turned into an increasingly extreme obsession for more than a decade. And I'm aware that I'm in good company when I tell this story. In diet culture, too many children are encouraged to start watching their weight when their bodies begin to mature, when others tease them, or when the challenges they face cause them to question their worth.
The people who encourage children to diet are usually trying to help. Raised in diet culture, they also received the indoctrination that says, "if something's wrong, we can fix it by losing weight." They learned that diets work, even though a growing body of research shows that diets make us hungrier, heavier, and sick over time. In my upcoming book, Non-Dieting: How to Love Your Body and Be Healthy in Diet Culture, you can learn all about that. Although it is usually unintentional, those who encourage kids to diet in response to life's challenges are sending the message that the child is flawed and must fix themselves to fit in. When a child internalizes this message, it can set them up for a lifetime of insecurity, disordered eating, health, and body image struggles.
The right message is something more like what this father did for his son. Not that we need to go to such extremes. We need to find ways to double-down on our admiration for the unique composition of body, mind, and soul that each of us is. A mother once told me that she responded to her daughter's body insecurities by throwing off her shirt and dancing around her room. She jiggled her body as she sang, "This is how I am. I'm awesome." Her daughter found it funny, and she joined her.
How have people supported you to love your body? How have you supported yourself through body image struggles? Or, what do you wish someone told you when you started to worry that you weren't enough? Please share with us in the comments below.
Together we can create a more body-positive world. We can support each others' mental and physical health by appreciating beauty in its many different forms.
-Alison Ross, LMFT
Hi. I’m Alison Ross, founder of Non-Dieting Health in Agoura Hills, California. I’m a licensed psychotherapist and neurofeedback practitioner specializing in eating and body image. My favorite things are my family, my dogs, yoga and working with my clients.
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