Ramblings, rant and essay on body image, education, teaching children, the internet, airbrushing and selfies.
I wrote a piece on weight gain after pregnancy a while ago, and how I was dealing with that. I personally have never had any real issues with my weight in my life. By “issues” I mean anything spanning from being under or overweight to eating disorders. Of course, there have been times in life where I have wished I were skinnier, or where I have wished I were a little bigger, but I have never held back from eating, or at the same time overeaten (unless you count giving me a bag of chips… I really must eat lots of those!). In our family we eat mainly healthy, simple foods, but like to indulge at times, but all in all we have a balanced diet. Now that I am home I am also trying to expand in the kitchen somewhat, nothing too over the top right now as Luna doesn’t really let me spend too much time cooking, but my plan is to make everything from scratch all the time at some point (even bread if possible). But basically, food has never been an issue, unless you count the times when I was really poor and needed to figure out how to make those pennies stretch until the next pay check.
I think that I have always been lucky enough to go through life eating what I want, with a healthy attitude towards food (part fuel part pleasure). I do thank my mother for this, for introducing me to all types of food as a child, and then for letting me become a vegetarian without any questions, and for helping me find a balanced diet that way. That’s the way it should be, right? Is it all about education, or is it because I am just lucky? I have been known to utter the words “I’m fat” now and again, but never really believing them, just because I feel a bit larger than I am normally. At the same time I have been known to say the words “I’m too skinny” too, when I’ve been stressed out and worried about things and spent too much time drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and not eating enough. But all in all I’ve mainly felt comfortable in my body, even during those teenage years when we never feel good enough for anything.
Since becoming a mother I have questioned many things, and one big one is the ability to teach my daughter to always accept who she is and what she looks like. When I was a kid we didn’t have any form of social media, photos were taken with film and you didn’t get to see them until they were developed. The word “selfie” didn’t even exist. Today I scroll through my Facebook or Instagram feed and see so many of these “selfies”, people taking pictures of themselves at the perfect angle, with the perfect pose and the perfect lighting. We’ve all been guilty of it now and again, but I feel that it’s really becoming an epidemic; natural, fun pictures are being replaced by posed pictures of someone’s face. “At the beach!” has gone from a picture of the beach to a picture of someone posing with a little bit of water and blue sky in the background. Anyway, in the end it doesn’t matter what I prefer, people can post what they want and I can choose to look or not look at it, it just worries me. Not for me, but for my daughter.
You watch the TV and you see so many commercials containing “perfect”, flawless women. Open a magazine and it’s the same thing. Trends change over time, when I was a skinny teenager Kate Moss came on the scene and I was happy that my shape was fashionable again. Nowadays I am a lot curvier and I actually love it too. Skinny or curvy, slim, fat, chubby, everything is human and everything is beautiful. What bothers me is the “perfection” attribute. With all the photo-editing on photos nowadays, there are no imperfections, nothing that actually make us human. I get that this is done on models in magazines, but people can nowadays do it on their own selfies before posting them to the internet. Again, this worries me. Not for me, I actually prefer the completely natural look in my photography, preferring to catch someone off-guard and am not one for much editing. But it worries me for my daughter.
How am I going to be able to ensure that my daughter grows up with a healthy body image when in fact we are surrounded by people and images and fad diets that are trying to make us think otherwise? Where do you draw the line between healthy and unhealthy? I know that at home I can teach her to have a healthy relationship with food, by introducing all types of food, maintaining a healthy but interesting diet and at the same time not withholding treats. We don’t use non fat in our family, that’s not how we were raised and I am fully convinced that the full fat version of something tastes better and is more filling than the non-fat version. We eat sugar and butter and eggs and cream and cheese here, always have and always will. But we also eat beans and veggies and fruit and rice and hummus and pasta. We eat a healthy amount of anything and don’t restrict ourselves (although I don’t eat meat or fish as I just don’t like them). No food is “the enemy”, just as no food is eaten in excess. I would love for my daughter to see fruit and veggies as something delicious like I do. Of course I would also love her to prefer a salad to Taco Bell. And it is entirely up to me to make sure that happens.
At the same time, as much as we, as parents, can educate our child to have a healthy outlook on food and body in general, how can we make sure our kids are strong enough to not be influenced by negative images or people in the outside world? How does one go about telling a child what is “normal” and what is “not normal”? I don’t even want to use the word “normal”!! I can’t even imagine what it’s like nowadays, growing up with all of that immediate communication around you, Facebook, Instagram and the likes. I struggle with it a lot myself, I like to share photos of my gorgeous little daughter with my family (which is spread out around the world) and my friends, I share my writing, which is often very personal, with the public, but I like to control what I share and what people know about me. I especially dislike being checked in to places online… Why on earth would I like random people to know where I am?! It took me a while to learn what I do and what I don’t want to share though, and a while to learn to keep personal writing and photography OFF of Facebook proper by only linking it from other platforms. And I suppose that one day I will be able to help Luna learn what to keep private and what she can make public, but how do I teach her how to weed through everything she sees online and see it for what it really is? That all of those articles containing images of the “perfect woman” are not real life and all of those pretty selfies are usually posed and not real life. That nobody is perfect, and anyway what is perfect? What those magazines tell us? That’s not even real.
It was hard enough growing up without being bombarded by images on the internet every day, so I can’t even imagine it now! I don’t want to keep Luna from being exposed to any outside or negative images, but I do want to give her the tools to be strong enough to know that she is wonderful just the way she is, and that so are other people, and that we don’t judge people on what their appearance is. I’ve made a conscious decision to make sure I don’t say things like “oh my god I feel so fat today!” and the like anymore. If I make it sound like I don’t accept my body, then how on earth can I teach my daughter to? And that also goes for anyone that she is close to – I shall be asking them to be aware of what they say about weight and food and exercise, about themselves or about others. And if they can’t or won’t, then I’m afraid that contact will become limited.
I know that may sound a little over the top, but I grew up so aware from such an early age, with worries and fears that I should never have had, so I just want to bring my child up so that she doesn’t go through the same, or at least never, ever thinks that she isn’t good enough. Maybe I’m worrying about things a little too prematurely, or maybe a little too much, but when it comes to the happiness of my child I want to make sure I’m prepared to get rid of any obstacles!
It’s taken me quite a few days to write this as Luna has been teething and a little bit more clingy than usual (yes, this is possible), and a few days ago I saw a really disturbing image going around the internet, a picture of a child with a magazine at her feet and a huge pair of scissors in her hand, ready to cut flesh from her own body. I would repost here but I can’t seem to find where the image is originally from or whose copyright it is, so here is a link where you can find it (you have to scroll down a bit as I can't get a link to the actual image).
Of course this image is not something that is happening in real life, but it is a powerful image on what may go through a child’s head when they see picture after picture of flawlessly airbrushed models in magazines and online. Food for thought.