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For Better or Worse, Body Image Begins in Childhood

Many of us struggle with our appearance, but is there a way to break free from society’s ongoing obsession with what we look like?


It was six p.m., bath time, and my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter was standing in front of me wearing nothing but her socks. She was, as one would expect of a toddler, not in the least bit ashamed of her body as she proudly patted her belly.

“Look at my tummy!” she said, sticking it out as far as it would go. “Look how big it is!” She grinned at me expectantly.

“It’s not big!” I exclaimed as if that would be a bad thing. “It’s thin and beautiful!”

And there it was. The moment I realized I’d failed as a mother.

I, who had vowed to embrace all body shapes and sizes, who had ditched the scales as soon as I became pregnant, who had sworn never to say the four-letter word “diet” in front of my daughter, was sending her the message that her body should be judged on size.

My goal was to be a positive role model for my daughter. I wanted her to realize she was beautiful for being exactly as she was. The truth was, though, it was hard when I was embarrassed about my own body. I felt like I fell short of some idealized notion of what was attractive in other people’s eyes. So I went on diets and attended gym classes, all under the guise of so-called, “self-improvement.”

Why, as a mature adult, should I be embarrassed about my body? Why did I believe that my body was somehow fundamentally flawed?

Psychologists, counselors, and exercise physiologists agree that body image – the way we view our body and the assumptions we make about how others view it – is a complex issue that begins in childhood.

“The most important relationship we have is the one we have with ourselves,” says relationships counselor and psychotherapist Charmaine Roth. From a very early age, we hear messages about ourselves from our parents and other adults about how we should look and behave. As we grow older, these messages are reinforced by the images we see in the media. These images, together with the early messages, can reinforce unrealistic expectations about our appearance.”

Most of us understand that media images are manipulated. The Australian Press Council stipulates that publishers should provide readers with information about digitally altered images where there is the potential for readers to be deceived. “Creating unrealistic expectations about what is a ‘healthy’ or an ‘ideal’ body shape could lead to the risk of adverse effects on the physical or mental health of readers,” says chair of the Press Council Professor David Weisbrot.

Eating Disorders Victoria CEO Jennifer Beveridge agrees that exposure to unrealistic images in the media can contribute to negative body image. “Heavily photo-shopped advertising campaigns using models who lack diversity sends a message that only one type of body can be considered beautiful,” she says.  

The problem is a lot deeper than photo-shopping, and no generation is exempt. I grew up in the eighties, at a time when Barbie was asserting her independence. As a young girl, I admired her ability to be a surgeon, an astronaut, and a racing car driver, but I also admired her long skinny legs and tiny waist and viewed them as a prerequisite for being a successful woman. This is despite an analysis by the University Central Hospital in Finland which estimated she would, (if she were a real woman) lack the 17 per cent minimum body fat required to menstruate.

My mother was a teenager in the 1960s, when one of the most famous women in the world was English model and actress Lesley Lawson. She was voted, “British Woman of the Year” in 1966 and the very name that she became known by – Twiggy – reflected society’s worship of thinness.

There are perhaps some evolutionary reasons as to why humans focus so much on looks. “It’s a natural survival mechanism to judge and compare ourselves against others, and for us to need to be accepted by others,” says Sydney-based psychologist Sharon Draper. “This dates back to the beginning of human kind since our mammalian brain has had to constantly scan the world for evidence of possible rejection, since this would be dangerous to our species’ survival.”

Thankfully, these days, our dress size or how we wear our hair does not dictate our actual survival. The fact remains that humans have always admired beauty and perfection, something which is only exacerbated by the highly visual society we live in, notes clinical psychologist Sam Van Meurs. “We are more aware of our physical selves than ever before due to the ever present social comparisons that we make on social media and when we see advertising,” he says.

This is certainly true, says physiotherapist and clinical Pilates instructor Nikhil Taneja, who has seen many young women compare themselves to celebrities and try to be the same. “They come to me because they want to know if yoga or Pilates will give them the same kind of physique as the celebrities they follow. When I try to explain to them that these celebrities also go on extreme diets, many of them don’t come back.”

Research indicates that eating disorders are on the increase and it is clear that perceiving our body in a negative light can potentially have serious repercussions on our health. So what steps can be taken to help develop a more holistic body image?

“Focus less on what your body looks like and more on what it can do is a good first step,” says Jennifer Beveridge. “Emphasise your inner strengths and value things unrelated to your physical appearance. Cut out negative self-talk, and engage in plenty of self-care.”  

Health and community psychologist Dr. Marny Lishman agrees that we need to stop putting ourselves down. “When we are self-accepting, we embrace all the parts of ourselves, our strengths and our weaknesses, the good and the bad,” she says.

When it comes to our children, there are many things we can do to encourage a positive body image, says Charmaine Roth. “Encourage mealtimes to be a time when the family can sit together and talk, rather than it being too focused on food,” she says.

Other strategies she advises we employ include taking care with the language we use, maintaining a healthy attitude towards diet and exercise, and praising our child’s strengths and abilities rather than appearance.

As for me, I did my best to reduce my negative self-beliefs. I began to focus on my strengths and I worked on accepting my feelings.

In the end, though, the most powerful lesson came from home.

It was my daughter’s bath time again and I’d gotten into the tub with her to tackle the challenging task. After the shampooing, detangling, washing, rinsing, and the obligatory bath toy games, we were back on the bathmat, drying ourselves off with towels.

“Mummy,” my daughter said, looking up at my naked body with a bright glow on her cheeks. “We’re the same.”  

And in that moment I suddenly realized something. My daughter, with the innocent eyes of a young child, could look at my body and see that our similarities were more important than our obvious differences.  

I knelt down in front of her and put my hands on her shoulders. I could feel the outline of her bones and the soft slope of her arms.

“We are the same,” I said, “and we are beautiful.”

And even though I’d been telling myself to love my body, for the first time in my life I truly meant it.  

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Dear Jeff Bezos and all who have anything to do with Amazon Prime Day,

I just want to start by saying—I know you are trying to be helpful. I love you all for that. I honestly do. But, you are kind of making me feel a lot of pressure today. Like, in a good way, but also, in an anxious way.

Let me explain…

On any given day, as a mother to three children, I have a certain level of anxiety. While it's not constant, I do have my anxious moments. Why? Because there are various versions of the following: Me asking my two older daughters to get their shoes on what feels like 500 times as I am changing my 9-month-old's very, very, very messy diaper while I am trying to figure out what I can throw on to wear in about five seconds while I am repeating brush your teeth, brush your teeth in my head so I, in fact, don't forget to brush my teeth.

Not even to mention the mental load that weighs on my mind every single day. Remember to flip the laundry, fill out the school forms, cancel that appointment, reschedule this appointment, order more diapers, figure out what we're having for dinner, squeeze in a shower, lock the basement door so the baby can't get down the stairs, find better eczema cream for my middle daughter, get more sunscreen...the list goes on and on and on.

But then you Amazon Prime Day me and I'm having a lot of feelings about that.

Because you're reminding me of things I need to order, to think about, to be on top of more.

The little potty that's on sale reminds me that I need to step up my potty training game for my 2-year-old. That super cute dollhouse reminds me that I need to think about my daughter's first birthday in two months (WHAT!). That face mask reminds me that I need to remember to wash my face before bed because I forget waaaay more than I remember which is terrible.

But then I realize, these deals are going to save my mental load by fixing my life. Right?

Like, I never knew I needed an Instant Pot until you told me it was only $58. Now I am scouring Pinterest for meals I want to prep in my own. THIS POT IS THE TICKET TO GETTING MY LIFE IN ORDER.

Do we need more plates and cups for the kids? I mean really they only probably need about two plates and two cups each but YES. Yes I do need more cute kids kitchenware. THESE PLATES ARE THE TICKET TO BEING A GOOD MOM.

What would I do if I had five Echo Dots? I don't know, but let's find out because they're only $29! THESE DOTS ARE THE TICKET TO EFFICIENCY.

If I order a Vitamix at 30% off, I know I'll lose the baby weight. Think of all the smoothies I'll mix up! I mean, I just lost a pound even thinking about the smoothies that thing can whip up. THIS VITAMIX IS THE TICKET TO A SEXY BOD.

Buying this trendy, floral dress will step up my mom style significantly. THIS DRESS IS THE TICKET TO KEEPING MY COOL.

Okay, then after I add all the fixers to my cart, I realize… I have 99 things, but necessity ain't one.

I mean, I have everything from waterproof band-aids to bras to dresses for myself and my kids to an alarm clock and books. I basically feel like Oprah—You get an Audible subscription! You get an Audible subscription!—but instead of these products magically being paid for by Queen O herself, the money is coming from my bank account, which is a lot less fun of a game, TBH.

And if I am being honest, I don't need much help with my order-things-from-Amazon-and-pretend-it's-being-paid-for-with-Monopoly-money game as I am quite often coming home to an Amazon package wondering what it could be, opening it with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning—even though I am the exact person who ordered whatever is inside of that Amazon box.

But today, on Amazon Prime Day, you tempt me with all the deals. And yes, my anxiety, blood pressure and adrenaline rise. And yes, my bank account might temporarily decrease—BUT if we are being fair, with the savings I'm getting on things I would buy anyway, I am basically making our account increase overall. Right?

And while these things aren't going to make me skinnier, or cooler, or more put together—I'm okay with that. I am doing a pretty good job on my own. But some of them will actually help my life in a few different ways at a reasonable price, and I am grateful for that—for real.

Now, Bezos, please end this 404 error nonsense and let me purchase all the things!

Thank you for all the savings and excitement,

Mamas everywhere

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Usually when celebrities post swimsuit photos on Instagram they don't exactly look like your average beach-going mom, but former Bachelorette (and mom of two) Ali Fedotowsky posted a series of bikini photos on Monday that are both beautiful and relatable.

"This might be my most vulnerable post on Instagram ever," she wrote in the caption for the photos which show a postpartum belly that looks like a real postpartum belly.

"At the end of the day, I know it's important to be open and honest about my postpartum body in hopes that it helps even one person out there who is struggling with their own body image," Fedotowsky (who just gave birth to her second child in May) wrote.

In the first photo of the series she's wearing a sarong around her stomach, but in the second and third photos Fedotowsky reveals the kind of stomach many mamas sport: It's not perfectly taut, she's not showing off any abs, but it is definity beautiful.

"If you swipe to see the second photo in this post, you see that my body has changed. My skin around my stomach is very loose and stretched out, I'm 15lbs heavier than I used to be, and my cup size has grown quite significantly," Fedotowsky writes.

The photos are a sponsored post for Lilly and Lime Swimwear (a line made for women with larger busts) but that doesn't mean it wasn't brave. In fact, the fact that it's an ad makes it even more amazing because research shows that when advertising only shows us bodies that don't look like our own, women become "generally more dissatisfied with their body and appearance".

Ali Fedotowsky

On her blog Fedotowsky notes that a lot of comments on her previous Instagram posts have been followers remarking how slim she looks, or how much they wish they looked like she does postpartum. By dropping that sarong and showing her tummy Fedotowsky is showing other mothers that there is nothing wrong with their own.

"While I appreciate the positive comments, you guys are always so good to me, I keep trying to explain that I'm just good at picking out clothes that flatter my body and hide my tummy," she wrote on her blog.

"I bounced back pretty quickly after I gave birth to Molly. But things are different this time and I'm OK with that. I'm learning to love my body and embrace how it's changed. I hope I get back to my pre-pregnancy shape one day, but that may never happen. And if it doesn't, that's OK."

Ali Fedotowsky

It is okay, because our bodies are more than our swimsuit selfies. They the vessels that carry us through life and carry our children and provide a safe, warm place for those children feel love.

Loose skin is a beautiful thing.


Thanks for keeping it real, Ali.

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Amazon shoppers were anxiously awaiting the countdown to Amazon Prime Day, but when the clock struck one, er three, the website went down.

On Monday afternoon shoppers were trying to get their hands on the much-hyped Prime Day deals but instead of low prices, many users just saw 404 errors, continuously refreshing pages, or had issues keeping or adding items to their shopping carts.

CNBC reports shares of Amazon were down during the shopping glitch, and many shoppers took to Twitter and Instagram to discuss how all they could see on Amazon were the dogs who decorate the site's 404 pages.

As cute as the dogs are, shoppers are getting tired of seeing them, so hopefully Amazon gets things back up and running soon. Analysts had projected Amazon would rake in $3 billion dollars this Prime Day. Time will tell how much of that was lost during the great dog picture debacle of 2018.

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"Say you're sorry!"

"Go apologize and mean it."

"You don't sound like you're sorry to me."

"She won't want to be your friend anymore if you don't apologize right now."

Sound familiar? This is a hot topic for many parents. We want our kids to have good manners, to truly feel and show compassion for another, to want to apologize from a heartfelt and authentic place—yet when we tell them to say they're sorry, what are we really communicating?

I think:

  • I need you to apologize so I can feel better about what just happened...
  • This is how we fix problems...
  • I need you to do what I say ...
  • You need me to tell you how to feel and behave...
  • I'm in control...(bigger and stronger wins)
  • Integrity is secondary to apologies—what you do doesn't have to be aligned with how you feel or think... just do it anyway.

Whew. Maybe not the message we really want to give.

Yes, manners are important and apologies are necessary. But, encouraging the growth of this from within—a genuine desire to (re)connect and show compassion, being in our integrity—is essential for healthy relationships.

Think about it. How might you feel if, after being hurt deeply by a friend they brushed you off with a cursory, "I'm sorry" or after a tearful yelling match with your teen that left you feeling raw, your spouse said, "How could you lose it like that?! You need to go apologize to him!"

I'd venture to say you might feel more hurt, maybe misunderstood and alone, or even mad.

Often, situations our children are in that we catch ourselves telling them to apologize are defined by just the same kinds of feelings. Hurt whether they are the one doing the hurting or being hurt; frustrated and mad that their favorite toy was grabbed, a cool idea rejected, some other injustice experienced; misunderstood because their feelings and thoughts weren't respected, because the adult missed all that led up to the conflict, because they weren't listened to; alone because they are misunderstood, not listened to, hurt on the inside, feeling rejected; MAD because they really didn't like what their buddy did and their feelings overflowed.

Having your child say "I'm sorry" is going to do very little for a child to grow an understanding of how they feel, why they feel, what they can do with all these feelings—all precursors to compassion.

The words I'm sorry" are more often about our need, not our child's. So what can you do to grow the genuine, integrity based, heartfelt ability to apologize?

1. Role model, always

Be genuine with your own apologies. Voice compassion for your child, others, and their situation.

2. Name and affirm feelings of all parties involved.

Just think, if your spouse, following the tearful yelling match with your teen, had said, "Honey that was really tough. Let me hold you for a minute while you pull yourself together," how might you now feel? How might that change the next step you took? I bet you'd feel connected, understood, cared for, and in a better position to now re-connect with your son and apologize for losing it. And it would have come from a genuine place within you.

3. Give choices or ideas.

"What can you do to help him feel better?"

"When you are ready to let her know you feel sorry, she'll appreciate it."

"Can you use your words or would you like to show her you feel sorry?"

Words, smiles, pats, sharing a toy, playing next to—these are all authentic ways kids can show they are sorry.

4. Notice what your child chooses or does on their own to express their apology and their feelings and name it.

"Thank you for offering your special stuffed guy to your friend. You wanted to help him feel better. What a nice thing to do to let him know you felt sorry."

And now you are helping your child learn a bit more about what healthy, caring relationships look like. Genuine apologies are on their way. It takes time to grow a child who can tap into their inner selves and respond with compassion and honesty in a difficult situation. Time, patience, and gentle guidance... trust this. "I'm sorry" will follow... and be truly meant.

Relationship building all around.

Originally published on Denali Parent Coaching.

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