I recently sat down and asked Emma Wright (MA), Family body confidence consultant, a few questions around body confidence, self-esteem and ways we can foster a love for our bodies. Something I know I have battled with, especially during the dark days of my mental health journey. I would literally think people were laughing at me, because of how grotesquely I looked (or thought I looked). I got so bad that I literally wouldn't leave the house. If someone gave me a compliment around my looks, I thought it was only because they felt sorry for me. It is a terrible thing what our mind can do if we leave it unchecked.
Why do you believe so many women have such low self-esteem or a poor body image?
I'm not sure there is one answer here - but a lot can be explained by our culture of venerating a very narrow idea of beauty - one that almost all women fall short of. We are then sold solutions to help us move toward that beauty ideal, but for the most part, these solutions fail and then tell us the problem is with us. It's commercial gold but adds to our increasing dissatisfaction with our bodies.
So many of us battle all our lives to feel some sort of acceptance around how we look. What would be three things you could suggest that we could try to help us improve how we view ourselves?
I would suggest
1) curating your social feeds with a lot of discernment. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad about what you already have - a lot of social feeds by trying to motivate us into looking a certain way in the future, really just help make us feel crap in the present - give that stuff up!
2) take a few minutes at the end of each day (in a journal if you can) and write down three things that worked well about your body today. It might be as simple as 'my eyes allowed me to see the beauty in the sky this morning'.
3) learn a mindfulness practice - one that is about being with what is without judging or attempting to fix (beware of mindfulness that is selling weight management solutions or a way to 'fix' yourself - that is NOT mindfulness)
What ways can we encourage healthy ideas around our bodies to our children?
Oh my goodness, where to start? I could literally write a book about this (spoiler alert - I AM writing a book about this). The most powerful thing we can do is learn to enjoy and accept our own bodies - and demonstrate self-care and self-compassion for ourselves - to our children. This can be a confronting idea to even think about for those of us who have experienced an eating disorder or body shame (I get it, I really do, this stuff is HARD) - and it can also be an incredible inroad to seeking support and learning to put those things in the past. I want to point out that having body shame or an eating disorder is not anyone's fault - these things are a very normal and natural reaction to some of the ways we have been taught to behave. They are not a sign of mental weakness or vanity.
Also - schooling them up on how media (and that includes ordinary people using image software on their social feeds) manipulate images so that almost all images are a false representation of reality - particularly when it comes to bodies. Show them that skin gets smoothed out, necks get lengthened, imperfections get corrected. This is such an empowering lesson for kids - it gives them agency over deciding whether to engage with an image or not let it affect them.
I find that the term ‘self-love’ doesn’t sit well with me but ‘self-acceptance’ is a better term. Are they really that different do you think? What do you think about those terms?
I do think they are different and I'm with you. I think self-acceptance is a more valuable and easy to access idea. Acceptance feels more natural and is a far easier concept if you are healing deep body shame. That said, I really like the term self-love as well, (even though a lot of people are steering away from it) because I really relate to the idea of unconditional love. That's the way I feel about my kids. Sometimes I'd like to pack them up and post them off - but I never stop loving them. These days, that is how I feel about my body. Don't always like it. Sometime it frustrates me (good morning, annoying sore hands) but I feel deeply loving toward it - in that I'm connected to how it serves me and that it is the only mechanism through which I have access to the world. Without it, I don't get to have a life - which is pretty darn incredible when I stop and think about it. That gives me enormous gratitude and a sense of love. That's very distinct from thinking I'm 'hot' or feeling 'in love'.
Any other comments you might have with regards to fostering a love of our bodies.
It's a slow process that requires a huge helping of self-compassion - that is one of the most worthwhile things you can do. Learning to foster a sense of appreciation and gratitude for my physical self has been both the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done. So keep going, no matter how small the steps seem - one day you'll look back and be soooo happy you kept at it. Life on the other side of body shame really is a wonder.
A bit about Emma:
Hey, I'm Emma Wright (MA), a family body confidence consultant. I help pretty smart parents:
Raise kids without a messed up body image
Teach their kids body positive practices
Learn strategies to build a robust fence at the top of the body image cliff
Understand what can stop a messed up body image developing
Learn what to say if your child talks about hating his/her body
Learn how to talk to your child about 'fat' without feeling awkward or make things worse
I do this work because the last thing I want is for any child to suffer the excruciating body shame that I did.
After I wrote my two books about recovering from bulimia, I became the go-to gal for friends who were worried about their kids.
These were smart, health-minded mums. caring, loving parents who had their children’s best interests at heart. But they were floundering when it came to battles over food, noticing their child giving an alarming focus on body shape and heartbreakingly, feeling shamed because of their child’s size.
These conversations, plus learning from my own recovery, lead me to create a ‘Raising Happy Kids in a Weight-Obsessed Culture’ talk, for parents.
At the same time as offering these talks, I’m writing my next book called: Pretty Smart Parents, Raising Healthy Kids in a Weight-Obsessed Culture, Without a Messed Up Body Image.
Through my own trial and error, I’ve designed a Bedtime Gratitude Exercise that I do with my daughter every night. Since doing it together she has started saying “Mum, I love my body!” It breaks my heart with joy.
To find out more about Emma and the amazing work she is doing, visit her website.
Do you battle with your self-esteem or body image?
Make sure you sign up to my newsletter as I work to uncover ways that we can all re-discover our true beauty within and feel confident in our own skin. Or join my Facebook group - Awakening with Bex Lipp