Rosie Butler was enjoying a restaurant lunch with her two daughters, aged six and eight. When her daughters finished off their plates, the waitress commented to Butler that her girls are “good eaters, but you’ll have to watch that when they get older!”
Having grown up with a negative body image herself, Butler is determined to raise her children to love and accept who they are. She was shocked and angered by the waitress’s comments, which were directed at her but overheard by her daughters.
“We need to lift each other up and accept each other for who we are inside, not what we look like on the outside,” says Butler. “We need to teach our children the importance of kindness and tolerance rather than judgement. We need to focus on healthy choices for the love of your body, rather than physical beauty.”
Understanding what a healthy body is
Danni Rowlands heads up Education and Prevention for The Butterfly Foundation, which supports Australians experiencing eating disorders. She says a “fear of fatness” is prevalent in our society. “One of the biggest problems we have in the society we live in is weight stigma and not having a true understanding of what a healthy body is,” says Rowlands. “We need to really be aware that healthy bodies come in a range of different shapes and sizes.”
Butler has noticed that her daughters have become aware of society’s pressure to be thin. “Recently I heard my eight-year-old say to my six-year-old that the drawings she was doing needed to be skinnier to be beautiful,” she says. “Needless to say, I was appalled and frightened by this kind of talk. We spoke about how beauty is inside, not outside, and how everyone’s body is perfect for them.
“My daughters have very different body shapes to each other, so we used that as an example. Ruby’s body isn’t like Remi’s, but it is perfect for Ruby. Remi’s body is perfect for Remi.”
Taking gender out of it
“There’s a big misconception that body image is just something that affects females, but through more research recently we’ve seen a real surge in body dissatisfaction in males,” says Rowlands.
It’s no secret what body “ideals” that many people, young and old, aim for. While typically females strive for thinness, for males muscularity is often the goal. These stereotypes start from a young age. “With children we’ve got to be really careful with the language we use, such as celebrating boys and their muscles, and girls for being pretty,” says Rowlands.
Simone Redman-Jones is the mother of a seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. “I make an effort to talk to my own children and others about what they’re doing and what they’ve achieved, and occasionally about what they are wearing or a new haircut,” she says.
Redman-Jones also refers to her daughter as being handsome and her son as beautiful — “I mix it up all the time to avoid gender stereotypes,” she says, admitting this approach is a work in progress.
Fostering healthy behaviours and self-esteem
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