As I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, one time too many that day, I think about what my children face in their futures – the age of social media.
Social media has dramatically altered the world that our children are exposed to on a daily basis. Thanks to celebrity culture and ‘fake’ Photoshopped images, our ‘normal’ is no more. This is scary, and even more than this, it’s dangerous.
Speaking from personal experience, and this is before the age of social media (not to give away my age), I remember the ages of 11–14 years were tough for me. I was embarrassed and miserable with how I looked and this was my main focus. I was overweight, not overly, but enough to be unhealthy. What others thought about me consumed my thoughts and crippled me. Things turned around for me when, at 15 years old, my mum suggested I go to Weight Watchers. It was during my time at Weight Watchers that my attitude and approach to food and myself started to improve, but this was a long journey and still is to this day.
My own experiences have definitely influenced how I want to approach future body image conversations with my own children.
I often marvel at my four-year-old daughter’s confidence. She loves every bit of herself. The way she wants to dress herself and knows exactly what she wants to wear, the way she will climb any tree she can possibly find, the way she dances with such creativity. She doesn’t doubt herself or her capabilities and it’s like she innately knows that she is strong, fast, clever and brave. This means she uses her body to its full potential. And her focus is mostly on how it functions, not what it looks like. I often wish I had her same four-year-old attitude toward my own body!
My desire is that this confidence will endure and will not be influenced by what my daughter sees or reads, or what her friends say, even throughout the difficult teenage years. That is the goal, but how do we as parents ensure that happens?
I read a useful article online about how we should speak to our daughters (and this applies to our sons as well) about their bodies. It’s all about shifting the focus and understanding what’s most important. If we can’t control what our children hear and see in the outside world, we can control what they hear and see at home.
For example, it’s important to balance compliments and conversations about physical attributes with compliments that are not related to looks. It’s important to voice how proud you are when your children are generous to others, or how clever they are in learning new skills or passing an exam or in being kind to their siblings.
Becoming more aware of our language and focus in this new world of heightened body image, celebrity culture and social media will become a crucial part of ‘keeping it real’ for our children when it comes to what’s really important in life.
Laura Tari is an expert food industry nutritionist with more than 11 years’ experience working for leading food companies in New Zealand and abroad. Laura has a Degree in Human Nutrition and a Diploma in Sports Science. She currently works as a freelance nutritionist and as a busy mum to two very active preschoolers.