Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Scary Topic: Body Image... As A Woman & As A Mom

I was recently having a conversation about women and body image and something stuck out in my mind... the woman I was speaking with said that she doesn't know a single woman who is happy with her body.  You know what, I think she's right and that is beyond scary.  We all know about the media screwing us up by showing us unrealistically skinny, toned women everywhere and anywhere, about how every picture we see in print is Photo Shopped (unless it's one of those entertainment magazines who love to snap stars and their cellulite), and that probably every model starves herself to look the way she does.  But the thought that if given the chance, there isn't a woman out there who wouldn't change something about her body is simply CRAZY.

We obviously learn this behaviour but because it's so prevalent and so deeply ingrained in society, we can't escape it.  As a mom, I'm terrified about protecting my daughter from falling pray but I don't know if that's even possible.  She's just turning 4 years old and she's the most petite little thing you ever did see (with a beautifully proportioned body), but even now she complains that she doesn't like her hair curly and wants me to straighten it!  I'm beyond nervous on what's to come.

Growing up I was always super skinny and as a competitive athlete, I was in fantastic shape.  However, I was not immune to coaches telling me in my teens to lose weight.  And I always hated how my hip bones stuck out.  Even at my most fit, I was not good enough.  And when I quit skating (just shy of my 17th birthday) and stopped training 4 hours a day, well, I don't have to tell you how my body changed.  Some things I liked (for example, getting boobs), but it's hard to go from rock hard to a more realistic figure without some effect on the psyche.  During my 20's, my weight did fluctuate, once as much as 20 to 25 lbs, but by my 30's it was usually more in the 10 lb range.  Even so, I was usually the girl known to have a "great" body.  There are definitely times I've felt like I've had a great body, but then there is the challenge of maintaining that body... not so realistic, especially now that I'm in my 40's and a very busy working mom.  More often than not, I usually feel like I can lose more weight and be more toned.  Is that the perfectionist in me, or is that every woman?  I'm beginning to see that this is every woman.  I definitely believe that we are own worse critics, and I also believe that women judge other women more harshly than men judge women (generally speaking).

I do know that it is easier as I get older to accept myself the way I am, but I'm not there yet 100%, nor am I sure if I will ever be.  At my last physical, my doctor told me I was at the low end of my BMI and that I shouldn't lose any weight (however, since then I gained 5 lbs and am now trying to lose it LOL).  I think the biggest change since I've gotten older is that my focus is not so much about weight loss, rather it's on staying fit and being toned.  I exercise 20-30 minutes, 4 to 5 times per week and try to eat as healthy as I can.  It's always a work in progress.

Although self-acceptance does come easier with age, there are other things we can do to improve our body image.  I think the most important thing we can do to change how we feel about our bodies is to try and live a healthier lifestyle.  When we eat well and are at a healthy weight, then we look and feel better (our hair is shinier, out skin has more of a glow).  When we exercise regularly, we increase our self-esteem and self-image, not to mention our energy levels.  Of course getting enough rest, managing stress and balancing our hectic working mom schedules also goes a long way toward a healthier lifestyle... well, we can try, right?  Besides, I do strongly believe being healthier and having some curves is a whole lot more sexy than a stick skinny figure (and I apologize to the very few women who are naturally underweight).  For a more in-depth read on body image, there are tons of articles out there... for example, the one I found on the  Healthy Place website.

Despite my own feelings about my body, I will tackle raising my daughter in the hope that I can provide her with a positive body image and good self-esteem.  This can be challenging and I don't want to be a hypocrite if I tell her she's perfect the way she is when I don't always feel that way about myself... but I'm working on it!  As it stands today, she is totally self-confident and loves to run around in her birthday suit (yikes).  I'm not sure when this begins to change, but I know it will.  She won't live forever with blinders on (unfortunately).  So for any of you moms out there who are a little ahead of me, I would so appreciate knowing what to expect and when to expect it.  This way, I'll be armed and ready!

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