Whoever coined the phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was wrong. Has anyone ever said something to you that stuck with you for years?
Growing up I was painfully “skinny” a word I hate. People would point out the obvious to me all the time. Yes, I know I look like a skeleton, gee thanks. I would love to “put some meat on my bones” if I could. It was constant. I hated how I looked and I was reminded of everything I hated about myself all the time. People didn’t equate calling me a skeleton to calling an overweight person a beached whale. One was okay to say to someone’s face, the other behind the person’s back.
For whatever reason the one incident that sticks out in my memory the most came from an angry stranger in a department store. I was in my early 20’s and a girl about the same age walked past me with a look of hatred in her face, looked me in the eyes and said “skinny bitch” and walked away. Why did my boney body cause her so much anger? I wondered if she ever felt regret for those words. Does she even remember saying them? Does she now have a daughter who hates herself so much she tries to hurt others with her words? Well it is 27 or so years later and I can still see her angry face and the face of her friend that laughed at me. Words do hurt.
As I got older I made peace with my body. I also finally did manage to put some meat on my bones. For several years it was a little too much meat around the middle. If someone walked by and called me a skinny bitch today I would turn to them and say “Why thank you for noticing, not bad for 49 right!” Smile and walk away.
Now I have a beautiful 12 year old daughter. I choose my words very carefully about her appearance. I try to put more emphasis on her character than on her looks. What we say to our children will shape their feelings about themselves for years to come. Make sure you are teaching your kids to be healthy, happy, grown-ups who love themselves.
Our girls today are comparing themselves to photoshopped ideals of beauty. I was made fun of for being a size 0, now it is the unrealistic goal. Our girls need to be taught that not everyone can be a size 0. They may have a body type that will never be society’s idea of thin or maybe like me, they feel they are too thin. Bottom line, if they are healthy and active, the number on the scale or their dress size isn’t as important as how they feel about themselves. Our children should never have to feel shame for how they look. Yes, childhood obesity is on the rise and we as parents and those of us in the health field need to address it, but we need to do it with support and compassion. Making your child feel guilt or shame for what they put into their mouth could lead to an eating disorder later in life.
Constant deprivation diets don’t teach them how to eat. They are all about what not to eat. What do you think will likely happen when they are on their own? They will rebel, they will want to take back that control that was taken from them. They may binge eat or use food to soothe the hurt they felt as a child.
A few years ago my daughter had a friend who lived in a house where no sugar of any kind was allowed. (I didn’t know this at the time) The first time she came to our house she went sugar crazy. She drank a whole container of apple juice, grabbed anything she could find with sugar and gorged herself. She rebelled. She had an unhealthy relationship with sugar. Can you relate?
This is why deprivation diets do not work. You may lose weight quickly but 9 times out of 10 the weight will come back and then some. You then feel like a failure, beat yourself up, and your self-esteem drops further. Then you repeat the process over and over.
As parents we need to teach our children to love themselves, heavy or thin. Don’t point out the negatives, they know those already. Dwell on the positive. We need to lead by example. Watch what you say about yourself in front of your child. If you self-deprecate yourself in front of your child, she will take notice. The media is fixated on the looks of those in the public eye. Who got fat, who is too thin, who looks old, and who had work done to not look old. The focus is always on the physical. Your child needs to not see you do the same thing.
If you do have a child that is overweight and wants to make a change, work together without guilt or shame to evaluate what changes can be made. Small changes can make a big difference. Maybe it is just removing soda from everyone’s diet, or if you find yourself at the drive-thru several times a week, cut your visits in half. Go for a walk after dinner as a family. Talk to each other rather than stare at screens all night. Ask about each other’s day. Maybe an upcoming test at school or project at work is causing stress. Talk it through, support each other, and make time for one another. Healthy happy relationships with those around you will do wonders for your individual health and how you feel about yourself. Genuinely complement each other. Slip an encouraging note into a lunch box or brief case.
Make it a point to send a different person an encouraging message each week. We don’t complement each other’s character enough. It is easy to say nice shoes, or love your hair, but it takes more time and thought to tell someone what makes them a great friend or person. That type of complement carries more meaning and will guarantee to make their day, week, or maybe even their month! Your words may be just what they needed to get out of a dark place in their life.
I was privileged to get two such messages last week. I stood a little straighter and had more confidence as a result. It was a great feeling. One message came from a woman I only spent a few hours with at dinner. A stranger I had never met prior to that night. How special that she took the time to email me after we met with such a positive uplifting message about my inner beauty.
We need to live our lives not as a competition with one another but let’s lift each other up – love one another. Don’t call each other names. Let’s teach our children to not bring someone else down to lift themselves up. We are only on this earth for a short time, let’s make a positive impact on those around us.