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Negotiating the mine-field that is body image.

Negotiating the mine-field that is body image.

So your daughter moves on from primary to secondary school; the girls get self-conscious; and your daughter – who is, by nature very slim – decides that she needs to lose still more weight. Of course, as a mum, you insist that it’s all rot, and she’s perfectly fine and she will simply waste away if she cuts down on the little she eats. She pretends to listen, but the next time she sees you having porridge instead of dinner, she gives you * that * look. ‘But I need to fit into size 12 clothes’, you defend yourself. ‘And I want to wear size 6’, she says. Stalemate.

I don’t know about you, but we have these stalemates ever so often at home. Comfortingly, many of her friends’ mums say they face the same problem, have the same argument and reach the same point where the kids think they’re right, the parents think they (the kids) are wrong, but they’re not able to do much about it, because, at some level, they are guilty of the same thoughts, same fears about their body image as the children. To be brutally frank, I suppose, at some level, I moan more about my weight than my daughter ever has. Of course, it could be because she’s not particularly heavy; but the point is, worries about body image never fully go away. And it cuts across gender too! The husband too gripes about his side profile when he catches his reflection in a full-length mirror. And then, how are we to tell the daughter that it the way you look does not matter, it is what you are?

Or is it really a bit of both? What you are mostly, and a little bit of the way you look? I’m not merely talking about the dressing smart/ never dressing like slob bit; and I’m not merely saying ‘as long you’re healthy and fit, your size does not matter’. I think, at some level, we all tend to take more seriously, somebody who takes their appearance seriously. I’m not suggesting we’re prejudiced, in favour of good looking people; but I think we think well of people who take a great deal of care on how they present themselves to the world. And that could possibly mean a slight bias against people who let themselves go. ‘If he/ she can’t be bothered to eat right/ exercise 30 mins a day, how is he/she going to do justice to this job?’ the small-voice in the head might say. It might even be construed as a chronic lack of discipline, won’t it?


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5 thoughts on “Negotiating the mine-field that is body image.

  1. Ramya

    I agree with you that the reality is that we are impressed by people who present themselves well (having taken care of themselves).

    But during adolescence, when her body is still growing and developing, should a child be worried or even think about whether her body is ‘acceptable’ to others?

    Eating healthy and getting enough exercise to stay fit are important – but if you do these and still have a small paunch, chubby arms and legs (I see that many tweens and teens do), it is ok – I would like to give this message to youngsters ……

    1. Aparna Karthikeyan Post author

      Ramya, I agree, getting the message across is important. And not sending out mixed signals is equally important. The daughter tells me of friends whose mums spend a lot of time getting preened; the girls go along, and get a mani-pedi. It’s not allowed in our house; it did breed resentment, now its accepted… Having said that, I do keep making visits to hair-dressers and beauticians, so that I look sufficiently * groomed *. It’s tricky, no?

  2. Sudha Kumar

    Aparna, I can relate to this post well as my daughter has just gone thru her “metamorphosis”. Based on this experience, what I can say is that this is the period when the influence of peers starts increasing and in a few years’ peer opinion becomes paramount. Also, adolescents can also be quite “insensitive” unlike parents. So I would think that it is wise to prepare the child and not take the view “does not matter what others think” cos, as you have pointed out- the world around you is judgmental. And looking good does matter :)

    Also, it is very possible to look good and eat healthy, if we make some changes to our diet at home as a family. So, maybe try and relate to the kid’s apprehensions while doing what we can as parents at the “back-end”?

  3. Meera Srinivasan

    Thanks …a thought provoking post –being a nutritionist I am constantly talking about eating right and being in the average weight bracket, I wonder how these messages are landing with my daughter who will enter her teens shortly….something to ponder about!
    But through the teen years feeling good about yourself is important and parents and teachers need to play an important role in helping the child become comfortable with how he/she looks.


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