We wear their percentile ranking like a badge of honor. We discuss birth weights at parties like career benchmarks. We comment on how big a baby is for their age or how small they seem to already be walking. We’re told exclusively breastfed babies tend to be on the leaner side and leave comments on social media posts like “look at those chubby rolls!”
Whether our children understand it or not is up for debate, depending on the resources you choose to read and believe. What’s for certain though is that they hear it, giving the opportunity for sentiments to seep into their subconscious. This is compounded by what they hear from us, their closest confidants, saying to ourselves and others. Things like, “I can’t eat that, I’m on a diet.” Or, “It doesn’t matter what I eat. Even vegetables make me fat.” Maybe it’s “Does this outfit make me look fat?”
One study reports that by age 13, 53% of American girls report being “unhappy with their bodies.” This percentage grows to 78% by age 17.
As our children get older, the comments evolve to “her legs are so long,” “man, you’re going to have to bulk up to make the team,” and “she’s really slimmed down, must be from all the running.” How is any of that constructive? Our focus should be on the character they exhibit and the actions they take to become better humans.
Brené Brown often talks about the power of words versus actions; citing that the real influence on our children is in the example we set. The case she makes on the Armchair Expert podcast is if you tell your children not to drink and drive but they see you drink (even a little bit) and still get in the car (regardless of the distance you may be going), your words are effectively negated. If a parent perpetually lies, it doesn’t matter that they tell their child not to lie to them because they’ve already set the example. The standard is based on our actions, and supported by our verbal reinforcement.
Think about it this way:
- During movie nights, are family member comments directed toward the decisions characters made and their respective outcomes, or it is about fashion choices and body composition?
- When it comes to social media, are we checking in with our child(ren) and sharing our own experiences? How do you feel after you’ve been online? What accounts do you follow and why? Do you ever find yourself playing the comparison game while you scroll TikTok?
- At mealtime, are our actions and words aligning? Is what our child(ren) observe and absorb the model of balance, confidence, empathy, and understanding?
In a world that values female thinness, male height (and strength), and overt competitiveness, where does that leave our little ones as their self-image develops? What happens when this modeling meets social media envy and comparison? What happens when it’s continually reinforced by parental behavior and remarks, from as early as infancy? Think then, when it’s compounded by peer imitation and the desire to be “popular” or “fit in” what the outcome is.