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For Better or Worse, Body Image Begins in Childhood

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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.”

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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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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

After a pregnancy that is best described as uncomfortable, Jessica Simpson is finally done "Jess-tating" and is now a mama of three.

Baby Birdie Mae Johnson joined siblings Ace and Maxwell on Tuesday, March 19, Simpson announced via Instagram.

Simpson's third child weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Birdie's name is no surprise to Jessica's Instagram followers, who saw numerous references to the name in her baby shower photos and IG stories in the last few weeks.

The name Birdie isn't in the top 1000 baby names according to the Social Security Administration, but It has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, according to experts.

"Birdie feels like a sassy but sweet, down-to-earth yet unusual name," Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry told Town and Country back in 2017. "It's also just old enough to be right on time."

At this moment in time, Simpson and her husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson, are probably busy counting little fingers and toes , which is great news because it means Simpson's toes can finally deflate. She's had a terrible time with swollen feet during this pregnancy, and was also hospitalized multiple times due to bronchitis in her final trimester.

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We're so glad to see Simpson's little Birdie has finally arrived!

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Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

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The woman who basically single-handedly taught the world to embrace vulnerability and imperfection is coming to Netflix and we cannot wait to binge whatever Brené Brown's special will serve up because we'll probably be better people after watching it.

It drops on April 19 and is called Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. If it has even a fraction of the impact of her books or the viral Ted talk that made her a household name, it's going to be life and culture changing.

Announcing the special on Instagram Brown says she "cannot believe" she's about to be "breaking some boundaries over at Netflix" with the 77-minute special.

Netflix describes the special as a discussion of "what it takes to choose courage over comfort in a culture defined by scarcity, fear and uncertainty" and it sounds exactly like what we need right now.

April 19 is still pretty far away though, so if you need some of Brown's wisdom now, check out her books on Amazon or watch (or rewatch) the 2010 Ted Talk that put her—and our culture's relationship with vulnerability and shame—in the national spotlight.

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

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If Marie Kondo's Netflix show got people tidying up, Brown's Netflix special is sure to be the catalyst for some courageous choices this spring.

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My husband and I recently had a date night that included being away from our son overnight for the first time since he was born three years ago (but don't let your heads run away with a fantasy—we literally slept because we were exhausted #thisiswhatwecallfunnow). It was a combination of a late night work event, a feeling that we had to do something just for the two of us, and simple convenience. It would have taken hours to get home from the end of a very long day when we could just check into a hotel overnight and get home early the next day.

But before that night, I fretted about what to do. How would childcare work? No one besides me or my husband has put our son to bed, and we have never not been there when he wakes up in the morning.

Enter: Grandma.

I knew if there was any chance of this being successful, the only person that could pull it off is one of my son's favorite people—his grandmother. Grammy cakes. Gramma. We rely so much on these extended support systems to give us comfort and confidence as parents and put our kids at ease. Technically, we could parent without their support, but I'm so glad we don't have to.

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So as we walked out the door, leaving Grandma with my son for one night, I realized how lucky we are that she gets it...

She gets it because she always comes bearing delicious snacks. And usually a small toy or crayons in her bag for just the right moment when it's needed.

She gets it because she comes with all of the warmth and love of his parents but none of the baggage. None of the first time parent jitters and all of the understanding that most kids just have simple needs: to eat, play and sleep.

She gets it because she understands what I need too. The reassurance that my baby will be safe. And cared for.

She gets it because she's been in my shoes before. Decades ago, she was a nervous new mama too and felt the same worries. She's been exactly where we are.

She gets it because she shoos us away as we nervously say goodbye, calling out cheerfully, "Have fun, I've got this." And I know that she does.

She gets it because she will get down on the floor with him to play Legos—even though sometimes it's a little difficult to get back up.

She gets it because she will fumble around with our AppleTV—so different from her remote at home—to find him just the right video on Youtube that he's looking for.

She gets it because she diligently takes notes when we go through the multi-step bedtime routine that we've elaborately concocted, passing no judgment, and promising that she'll follow along as best as she can.

She gets it because she'll break the routine and lay next to him in bed when my son gets upset, singing softly in his ear until she sees his eyelids droop heavy and finally fall asleep.

She gets it because she'll text us to let us know when he's fallen asleep because she knows we'll be wondering.

She gets it because just like our son trusts us as his mom and dad, Grandma is his safe space. My son feels at ease with her—and that relaxes me, too.

She gets it because when we come home from our "big night out" the house will be clean. Our toddler's play table that always has some sort of sticky jelly residue on it will be spotless. The dishwasher empty. (Side note: She is my hero.)

She gets it because she shows up whenever we ask. Even when it means having to rearrange her schedule. Even when it means she has to sleep in our home instead of her own.

She gets it because even though she has her own life, she makes sure to be as involved in ours as she can. But that doesn't mean she gives unsolicited advice. It means that she's there. She comes to us or lets us come to her. Whenever we need her.

She gets it because she takes care of us, too. She's there to chat with at the end of a long day. To commiserate on how hard motherhood and working and life can be, but to also gently remind me, "These are the best days."

After every time Grandma comes over, she always leaves a family that feels so content. Fulfilled by her presence. The caretaking and nourishment (mental and food-wise) and warmth that accompanies her.

We know this is a privilege. We know we're beyond lucky that she is present and wants to be involved and gets it. We know that sometimes life doesn't work out like this and sometimes Grandma lives far away or is no longer here, or just doesn't get it. So we hold on. And appreciate every moment.

As Grandma leaves, I hug her tight and tell her, "I can't thank you enough. We couldn't have done this without you." Because we can't. And we wouldn't want to.

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