Dear Body Image of 5 year old me,
As a birthday present my grandma had bought me two new swimming costumes, a royal blue one with florescent trim and a red and white striped bikini pretty similar to this one but with red frills and pants instead of shorts.
I was totally in love with both my new swimming costumes but I especially loved my bikini, it felt so grown up to have an actual bikini. I knew my mum didn’t approve, she didn’t think little girls should wear bikini’s, but the top was a crop top rather than a bra like one. I was five I didn’t have breasts I needed to hide, but now I am a mum myself I understand more about her reservations about girls and bikini’s.
Anyhow I wore it swimming for the first time and my overriding memory of that day was being embarrassed about having my stomach on show. I thought I was too fat to wear a bikini, and I kept trying to cover my stomach up.
I was ONLY FIVE YEARS OLD and somehow I had already been warped into thinking my tummy should be flat and I must be skinny. Where the hell did I get that idea from!? Remembering that makes me so sad. I was a normal healthy 5 year old girl. I wasn’t skinny but I definitely wasn’t fat or overweight, I just had a normal child’s tummy. It worries me how I must have received these messages that girls must be slim from such an early age.
I suspect partly it was my family and my relationship with my mum and her own relationship with her weight and food, partly my peers- at that time my best friend was Becky- she was slim and beautiful and everyone always commented on her looks. I don’t think it can have been the media too much- I wasn’t allowed to watch that much telly and my mum never really had women’s magazines, but maybe it was also the billboards, the adverts, thin obsessed society that seeped into my consciousness and invaded my self esteem?
Whatever it was, I never want my girls to feel how I felt that day at the swimming pool (I don’t think I ever wore that swimming costume again), but I feel powerless to stop them feeling like that. What can I do as a mum to make them confident in their own bodies? I hope my own reasonably happy in own skin body image will help (it took a lot of work and I didn’t get there until I was in my twenties), for example I never ever diet, and I am not particularly obsessed with my weight (although I am aware I eat too much cake at the minute and when I stop breastfeeding I may need to reign it in a bit) as I do think mothers own body image has a massive impact on how daughters perceive their own body image.
On the other hand I worry about Oddler’s diet- she has always been in the 99.9th centile and she eats a lot. At the minute we try not to worry too much about it, we encourage fruit and veg but are not too fussed if she doesn’t eat them, I really don’t want to get into food being a battleground as it was with my own parents. Also as my diet isn’t optimum so I can’t really force stuff on my kids that I tend to avoid if I can (I really need to work on that whole role modelling lark!). We do encourage activity and as she grows up she is a normal healthy two year old on the big side but not overweight for her age. She is exactly like me and I can see she is going to have my build and I can see already the differences in her sister- her baby sister is always going to be a skinny one (like her dad) and I wonder how this will be for them both growing up, especially in the teenage years. I think we just keep doing what we are doing on that front and hope for the best.
One thing important for me to do for their body image is to curb my critical tongue, I inherited it from my mother and I can often come out with a negative instead of a positive. I know the effect it had on me growing up and I don’t want to have the same effect on my girls. I’m hoping my own experiences will help me not make the same mistakes my parents did, but I also know I am likely to make other mistakes (plus Philip Larkin had a point), and ultimately I do know my parents love(d*) me and wanted what was best for me, just as I do for my girls.
So dear 5year old body image- the memory of you makes me so sad- as does my 15 year old body image, however ultimately I am cheered that as a 30 year old woman I am pretty happy in my own skin. I am never going to be a skinny minnie, I am never going to have a flat stomach and I’m always going to have my childbearing hips and proportionate build, but that’s okay because I am happy and healthy (
could be healthier admittedly) exactly how I am. So now I just need to work on my girls being at the point I am now without going through the same body image blips I did! Is that even possible?
Raising girls with good self esteem- it’s a minefield innit! Help!
Lots of Love
*P.S Love(d) because my Dad died recently but I know he loved me, I know my alive Mum still loves me. I have no idea of the correct grammar in such cases!