Talking Point: Body positivity begins at home

Written by Gemma Fraser on 20 May 2019 in Comment

An online survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation with YouGov in March revealed that 37 per cent of teenagers felt upset and 31 per cent felt ashamed in relation to their body image

Image credit: Holyrood

As a parent, one of my biggest fears is failing my daughters when it comes to looking after their mental health.

The pressures they will face as they become early adolescents, teenagers and young women utterly terrify me and I worry I’m not well enough equipped to help them navigate their way through the complex mass of emotions that come hand-in-hand with growing up.

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, a fitting time for us all to take stock of ourselves and those we love the most.

This year’s theme of ‘body image’ particularly resonated with me as one of my biggest parenting objectives is promoting body positivity for my two girls.

At the age of seven, my eldest daughter is becoming more and more aware of her body and the different shapes and sizes of those around her, so these discussions are starting to emerge.

She has occasionally referred to people having “six packs”, which I can categorically state she has never heard from me (and she has certainly never witnessed the existence of one in our household), and spends more time thinking about how she looks in particular outfits than I care to admit.

She told me the other day that someone called her “fatty” in her gymnastics class, which angered, saddened and frustrated me in equal measures.

The name-calling had come from an older girl, offering a depressing insight into how she must have felt about her own body image that she decided to pick on a younger child who she didn’t even know. And, even more worryingly, my daughter is a very fit, active and healthy-eating child who could never be described as overweight, so if the name-caller really did think my daughter was ‘fat’, then her perception of what a healthy body looks like is already massively skewed.

The impact of throw-away comments like that, at such an impressionable age, cannot be underestimated and no matter how much I reassure my daughter every single day about how amazing she is inside and out, the opinion of her peers is ultimately what is going to matter as she gets older.

An online survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation with YouGov in March revealed that 37 per cent of teenagers felt upset and 31 per cent felt ashamed in relation to their body image.

And 40 per cent of teenagers said that images on social media caused them to worry about their body image. That’s almost half of teenagers who feel worried as a result of a societal pressure to look ‘Insta perfect’.

With figures like that, perhaps I shouldn’t be so shocked that young children are ‘fat shaming’ one another.

The best piece of advice I ever read in relation to parenting was: “If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”

So, if there’s one positive I can take from my daughter’s experience, it’s that she felt able to share it with me so we could discuss how it made her feel.

I’m not egotistical or deluded enough to think that my daughters will always want to share all their worries with me, but I’m eternally hopeful that I’ll have listened and cared about enough of the ‘little stuff’ over the years for them to always know that they can talk to me about anything, however big or small.

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