Over the weekend I talked to a group of girls and parents in Houston, Texas on social media and body image. I’ve openly talked about my eating disorder, my anxiety and depression, and the negative relationship I had with my body growing up. I’ve also been open about the negativity I faced from specifically my mom regarding my body when I was younger. I love my mom so much, but I have battled with her over my body for years. Listen to that: my body. Never should you ever battle someone about how YOUR body should look because it’s your body, not theirs, not your boyfriends, not your husbands. YOUR body.
It’s taken me years to realize that when someone puts down your body it’s because they’re insecure about their own body image or issues they’ve faced relating to body image. But when I was 16, having just recovered from my eating disorder and my mom took me to the doctor to tell my doctor that I was “obese” I didn’t think of the body image thing like that.
During my talk on Saturday I looked to the back of the room and spotted one of the women in tears. I didn’t say anything or point out her tears, but she eventually raised her hand. Prior to me realizing this woman was crying, a girl who was maybe 11 or 12 sitting in the front row said that her mom frequently told her that she had a “very large belly”. My heart sunk because I knew exactly what this child was feeling, and that feeling is not a fun one.
I gave the child the same advice I wish I had given myself back when my mom made the same comments about my body: anyone who puts anyone down is dealing with something that we’ll never understand. All you can do is stay positive and confident. Easier said than done, but nothing is impossible. Even when it’s your parent making the negative comments.
The woman in the back was in tears because her daughter is young, I think 5th/6th grade and the bullying has begun because her daughter also is a bit overweight but can’t control her weight. The mother said that her husband also has a big stomach, that everyone on his side of the family has had weight issues and most importantly that her daughter eats a balanced and healthy diet. She was crying because she didn’t know what to tell her daughter to keep her daughter positive as the bullying persists.
Also, she was petrified on how her daughter would be able to face the bullying as it gets more severe, as it unfortunately most likely will the older the girl gets.
I can’t preach enough that everything you say as a parent will become engrained into your child’s mind. If you are standing in front of the mirror every day while your child gets ready for school saying to your significant other how “fat” you look, your child will hear that. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told by kids that their parent stands in front of the mirror everyday and talks negatively about their own body.
When you realize that your child is beginning to be bullied OR bully other children, please do something about it. Please don’t stand in the corner like the confused or lazy parent who doesn’t want to accept that your child is hurting. Bullying begins around age 10 nowadays, and that means the more educated you can become on how to discuss body image and bullying the more educated your child will become. I wish that bullying wasn’t as prevalent as it is but it will be for the foreseeable future so the best we can do as a community and that you can do as a parent is stay educated. If you see something, say something and advise your child to too. Bullying can turn into anxiety which can turn into depression which can turn into suicide. Keep your child on the right track. Perhaps introduce my favorite meditation app Headspace at the dinner table or spend 1 hour every week with your daughter or son doing something that you both enjoy! Like cooking? Try a cooking class! Like hiking? Take your child on your weekly Saturday hike.
Create the conversation with your child at a young age so that they feel comfortable coming to you when things get more difficult as they get older! When your child tells you they are being bullied, set up a time to sit down with the guidance counselor at the school. They may be no use or they might be great use but either way you will have shown your child that you are taking any form of bullying very seriously and that the school should too. It’s not a bad idea to bring your child to a therapist if they are being bullied and you find that the school isn’t helping in the way you want. There are many local and national resources for your child to be involved with.
I also encourage you to introduce activities outside of school to your child. A recreational sports team or dance team will give your kid something to do after school if you realize that they are beginning to slack off or not want to be a part of the school community.
Stay positive, stay proud and stay involved.