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Ponderings on Body Image

Look! It’s Lizzie!

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother being on a diet. We would have our dinner; she would sit at the end of the table with a bland-looking baked potato with cottage cheese. It wasn’t just her; one day when I was no more than about 5, I walked into our living room to find her and two of her friends sitting on the floor, trying to walk on their bottoms like they’d seen on some exercise show. I remember them being very impressed that I could do it. It was the 80s, the era when Lizzie Webb encouraged us to exercise each morning on Good Morning Britain with that maniacal Jokeresque grin. The era when the workout video really began. The entire nation was on a diet.
When I was in first school, our PE classes were mainly playing with hula hoops in the playground, or kicking a ball back and forth. When I moved up to middle school, all of a sudden they wanted us to do cross country running through the woods. And so began my hatred of all things exercise. I spent secondary school coming up with elaborate excuses to get out of PE class, and was relieved when I went to college and found nobody cared whether I could play netball or not. I spent the next few years studiously avoiding all exercise. When I got a bit too chubby and needed to lose weight, I would go on a diet, as per years of examples in my life and the media. I never liked the way my body looked, and would usually just wear baggy clothes to cover my belly. At best, the shape of my body was something I tolerated.
A few years ago I joined a gym, and got really into it. I saw a personal trainer a couple of times a month, went to tons of classes, and at one point was in the gym every morning at 6:30am. I loved it. Then I had a breakdown, and it all stopped. Ironically, I also stopped eating for a time, and so finally my stomach was flat. I had something of an epiphany in a La Senza changing room where I realised my belly was flat, and yet I was completely miserable. I’d always thought if I could just take another couple of inches off my waist, I’d be happy.
Oddly, I think becoming pregnant and having a baby has done a lot for my body image. As soon as I had a bit of a bump, and I was supposed to be fat, I wore tight, figure-hugging clothes to show it off. Because I exercised throughout my pregnancy, and had some rather ridiculous amounts of stress to deal with, the weight I put on stayed on the bump. Once S was born, I was lucky in that the excess weight seemed to shift fairly quickly, and of its own accord. Because I was keen to ensure I stayed mentally fit, I went for lots of walks with S, which helped.
growth chart premature baby
S’s growth chart. Go us!
When S was born, she weighed 5 pounds. Relatively large for a baby born 5 weeks early, but still tiny. She was very skinny; I have photos of her sleeping where you can clearly see her ribs, and her legs were so small I couldn’t see how they would ever support her weight. As she’s grown, I’ve enjoyed the way she’s become podgy, like a baby is supposed to be. She has the most adorable little rolls of chub on her thighs and when she puts her head down she has a double chin. It feels strange to be celebrating fatness, when my whole life I’ve strived for exactly the opposite. She weighs 16 pounds now, and a friend commented to me that she looks really good for a premature baby who’s been fed only breast milk up until fairly recently. If I’m honest, the fact she is now on the 50th centile on the growth chart in her little red book is probably the biggest achievement of my life to date.
Having a child, and thinking about the hang-ups I still have about my body, I am very mindful that I don’t want to pass that attitude onto my daughter. I remember a friend commenting a while back that her 5-year-old daughter had come home from school one day worried because someone had called her fat. I am very aware of the fact that although S is only 6 months old and cannot speak, she is very alert and takes everything in. She sees me inspecting myself in the mirror, changing my top if the one I first put on doesn’t look right. She sees what I eat, sees the crisps I grab when I can’t be bothered to put a proper meal together. Nothing motivates you to make an effort with your self image like knowing you could cause the same issues in your child. I love S with all my heart; she is the most perfect thing I have ever seen. To think that she could ever look in the mirror and not think the same would break my heart.
These days there is such an emphasis on image, and children seem to be sexualised earlier and earlier. Not so long ago a 4-year-old girl told me she had a new boyfriend at school. Makeup and bikinis are marketed to increasingly younger age groups, and the majority of toys for girls these days are based around appearance. It terrifies me to think my daughter will be growing up in this environment, where everyone looks up to Kim Kardashian as a role model because she… has flawless makeup? How do you make sure your child is happy in her own skin when society increasingly dictates what the dimensions of that skin must be in order to be accepted?
Thirty years on, the media is even more saturated with diets and exercise dvds. Magazines aimed at women are filled with photos of celebrities looking too fat or too thin or telling the secret of how they shed their excess pounds. In a recent issue of Closer Magazine there were 13 articles about celebrities’ weight or appearance; this made up 38% of all of the articles in the magazine. We are bombarded with it, and we are bombarding our children with it. How do I teach my daughter that the media and most of the women and girls she knows are wrong?

This post was inspired by this post on Hybrid Rasta Mama.
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Vicky is a mother, a blogger, a podcaster and a social media trainer. She writes about life as a single mother, parenting and lifestyle type things.

1 Comment
  • The Pugnacious Vegetarian

      REPLY

    Excellent post, Vicky! S is adorable and it's obvious she takes after you :)

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