Looking at the staggering statistics on eating disorders and body image issues, it is easy to jump on a soapbox and wag our finger at the media, Tumblr, Photoshop, etc. Sadly, I catch myself saying unkind things about my body almost daily. How often am I in the presence of young female ears, hearts, and developing minds? In speaking unkindly about our bodies we are perpetuating messages similar to the ones found in the media and reinforcing that it is permissible, even normal, to speak negatively about our bodies.
Women are subjected to pressures and expectations from both the media and influential females starting in early childhood. The self-deprecating language about our female form has become so ingrained in everyday conversation that we often overlook and underestimate the potential for damage. This vicious cycle is a repetitive one. We try to teach girls to discern, ignore, and even speak out against the media's messages about the female body. These efforts are so important.
Thankfully, healthy resources are growing. Local group GENaustin aims to "support and guide girls as they navigate the unique pressures of girlhood” and many documentaries and ad campaigns have exposed the truth behind media images and messages (for example, Miss Representation and Dove). And yet, in the presence of teens who look up to us, we still find ourselves saying things like "I feel like such a cow today," "Some jerk brought cupcakes to work," "Enjoy eating that now, when you're my age it'll go straight to your hips!," or "Untag! My arm looks so fat in that picture!"
Recently, I was speaking with a teenage female in my life about this paradox. Her response was both unsurprising and saddening: "Yeah! It's much more meaningful and I'm way more impressionable when someone I'm close to speaks negatively about their body than when it comes from social media."
Courageous groups and individuals continue to combat the larger powers that be when it comes to social media. There is a long road ahead but thankfully healthy steps are being taken. So how can we join the efforts? What can we do at home? Regarding our personal social media? In our daily conversations? In our private thoughts? How can we be mindful of the messages we are sending to ourselves and our daughters?
1. Practice self-compassion to stop the negative cycle. When an unkind thought or statement appears try not to chastise yourself for it. Instead, notice it, say "oops!", and try to look for a kinder way to express yourself.
2. Our vibe attracts our tribe. If you often find yourself engaging in conversations with friends about hating yourself for eating too many Girl Scout cookies, maybe it is time to look for others that will lift you up instead of dwelling in negativity.
3. Use it or lose it. If you catch yourself saying something unkind about yourself or your body in front of your teenage daughter, use the opportunity to spark a meaningful conversation about the complexities of being female.
4. Daily affirmations. Place sticky notes with gentle reminders of how amazing you are in places you will be daily reminded- on your mirrors, in your car, on your cellphone.
5. Channel your best friend. Ask yourself, would you say that unkind thing about your best friend, mom, or daughter? If not, take a moment and reword it before saying it about yourself.
6. Take care of yourself. Our words are kinder when we are being kind to ourselves.
7. Reclaim your body. Remember how powerful and capable your body is. Many of you created and nurtured human life into this world - WOW! Challenge yourself to find an activity, big or small, that reconnects you to the physical power of your body through movement.
8. Check your own media exposure. Research shows that there is a strong correlation between low self-esteem and Facebook use due to “social comparison.” Pay attention to how you feel when engaging with various forms of social media; maybe even do some social media “spring cleaning.”
9. Ask for what you need. If you are having a rough day and need a little extra TLC from those around you, ask for it.
10. Eat mindfully. How often do we forget what we have eaten or if we have even eaten at all? Take care of yourself by making intentional choices about what you put into your body. Slow down, pay attention, and be mindful.