I was talking to a friend who has three teenage daughters, and she was worrying that she wasn't presenting a positive example about body image to them. She doesn't want them obsessing over their bodies, counting every calorie, and pointing out every flaw. Since I have boys I thought I couldn't really relate, so I was just listening and agreeing at the appropriate moments.
But then I thought "uh oh". Listen, I'm almost 47, and looking my best is a bit of a challenge. There are extra pounds in places where there shouldn't be. My face has more wrinkles. Hormones appear to be out of whack. This body has traveled a lot of miles. And.....I complain about those things...a lot. Sometimes I think I'm probably fishing for a compliment from ONE of the males in this house. Other times I'm just feeling sorry for myself, which isn't a good look on anyone.
Uh oh. Every time I complain about my imperfections in front of my boys, I'm reinforcing the notion that how I look completely defines who I am. Of course, our appearance is a big part of who we are, but it's not the only thing, or the most important thing.
Teenagers are bombarded constantly with visual images about how they are supposed to look. Have you seen an Aeropostale ad lately? Good lord, nobody looked like that when I was in high school. Actually, there was this one girl, but I think she may have been held back a few times, so she was probably 20 or something.
I want my boys to look at a woman and see more than her outer appearance. I want them to respect women as strong, amazing people who can do anything. It's my job to teach them how to do that. But, uh oh, by saying "I look so fat in this outfit", or "where did THAT wrinkle come from", I'm showing them that I put too much value on what I look like. NOT a good lesson.
From now on, I'm going to try to remember not to point out the negative when they are around. I will try to talk about my accomplishments, about how I worked at being healthy that day, or how I wrote a great blog post. I will keep striving to improve my appearance, but I will not obsess about it around my boys.
It won't be easy, because I do feel a little bit chubby and a little bit wrinkly, and WHY is my hair so flat today? Maybe somebody out there would like to talk with me about it :)?
If I respect myself, it will teach them to respect me, and they will learn to respect their girlfriends, wives and someday their daughters. And I will have one less "uh oh" moment.
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