Outside influences on body image

Body image issues can begin anywhere.

Maybe it was your well-meaning dad who suggested you back off from seconds at Thanksgiving one year — and you never forgot it.

Maybe it was your thin older sister who was constantly dieting, making you feel uncomfortable for every bite you took.

Maybe it was seeing your mom pinching her hips in the mirror every morning or stepping on the scale multiple times a day.

Maybe it was your over-exercising college roommate who guilted you into doubling up with her at the gym.

Or maybe it was that “winner” of a boyfriend who gawked at other girls’ figures in front of you.

No matter where your body image issues began, outside influences are often to blame. For me personally, it was never anything anyone said or did, but rather “thin-is-in” messages in the media which shoved down my throat the notion that I needed to be thinner in order to be happier … or so I believed. I fell for it, hook, line and sinker like so many other young women. But fortunately, I was in my early 20s when I succumbed to these outside influences …

For other women, it starts much sooner … and, in many cases, much too soon.

Case in point … A friend of mine — also my personal trainer and Zumba/Body Pump teacher — told me a story this weekend that made my blood boil, probably as much as it did her own.

She brought her 7-year old daughter to a birthday party. Toward the end of the party when cake was being served, her beautiful, thin, competitive dancer of a daughter got a sliver of cake that mostly had chocolate cake — and she wanted a piece with more vanilla. So, like any kid (or adult!) would do, she asked the mom serving the cake for a piece that had more vanilla instead.

The woman gave her a look, basically said no, and then had the audacity to say: “You want to maintain that girlish figure, don’t you?”

When my friend found out what happened, she was absolutely appalled by this mother’s behavior. And when she shared the story with me, I was equally appalled. What kind of thing is that to say to a perfectly healthy, fit, athletic and thin child? Or, rather, to any child!? Especially one that isn’t this woman’s own!?

Fortunately, my friend’s daughter is a strong and confident young woman who is being raised right — to love herself, believe in herself … but what if she wasn’t? What if that one comment had set her on a downward spiral into the sordid world of disordered eating? Of obsession with weight and calories? Of over-exercising and who knows what else?! I don’t think that will be the case with my friend’s daughter, but each of us who struggle (or have struggled) with body image often have that one defining moment — or a cluster of defining moments — that brought us to our knees.

Let this be a lesson to us all: outside influences are everywhere. And as a mother of a daughter who wants to do everything I can to protect her from these influences … unless she lives in a bubble, I simply can’t shield her entirely. Not because I don’t want to, but because there will always be mothers like this cake czarina, rude relatives, fanatical friends, mean kids on the playground … And while we can’t control what they all say and do, we can control how we react to them.

And most importantly, we can use moments like this as teachable moments. In the case of my friend, she told her daughter that no adult should ever speak to her that way — and should something like that ever happen again, rest assured, her daughter would surely speak up!!

It’s not fair that children as young as 7 years old have to deal with this type of situation, but sadly what happened to my friend’s daughter happens everywhere. We live in a country that values thinness and physical appearance above all else. And unfortunately, even a thin, fit,  little girl wasn’t immune to it.

How about you? Who were your body image issues — past or present — influenced by?

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3 thoughts on “Outside influences on body image

  1. My point in time is well defined in my memory. My body image issues began at age 12 when my little cousin told me I was fat. I never forgot that, and that trigger sent me on a path of years of disordered eating and obsessive behavior.

    I’m appalled what that mother said! She should be kicked in the face! Ok, that’s a bit violent, but seriously, how terrible.

      1. Well thankfully as an adult I got a grip on things! I have a healthy point of view now, but it took years. It’s amazing how body image can play such a huge role. It makes me want to be a positive role model for my daughter!

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