I was chatting the other day with some women of a couple of different generations about this whole body image shemozzle. And we discovered just how important a person’s first encounter with their body image is.
We were discussing cosmetic surgery and negative influences in the media (I wonder who we were talking about…) wondering whether these people truly are having a bad impact on girls’ self esteem. I believe self esteem is an inner element of a person: it doesn’t really have anything to do with what we look like at the end of the day. As teenage girls, something happens in our brain chemistry that makes us terrified of standing out, terrified of being wrong or looking wrong and being rejected from the pack. It’s ok. But it’s part of our chemistry and very hard to rewire. So I think that no matter what we’re seeing in social media/in the news/on TV, it’s hard to avoid these feelings. I think that it is important for those close to us to be sending the right messages, far more important than distant reality tv stars and models who pop up on our phones every day. One of the ladies I was discussing this with told us a story of how her family always complimented her for having ‘big legs’. She was super proud of them, and that was communicated to her early, and reinforced year after year. It wasn’t until she was at college and her friend was crying at the thought of having big legs that she even questioned the beauty of such a feature. So like I said last time I wrote about this, it is our situation, our direct surroundings, our family and friends and the culture they create that influence our ideas of beauty and of our own beauty.
My first encounter with my body image was other girls at school telling me I was skinny, telling me they were jealous, that they wished they looked like me. I didn’t even know I was skinny until I was told by my peers. From that very first encounter all the way through high school, I associated ‘skinny’ with guilt. Because I wasn’t told that I was elegant or beautiful because I was slender, but I was told that I made girls feel bad about themselves because I was slender. And I think that was really damaging for me, in all honesty. It made me hyper sensitive to comparison, made me uncomfortable with the way I looked because I associated it with the negative feeling of guilt.
I guess my point is that in those early, formative years it’s so important that young girls have people around them that reinforce the true meaning of the word ‘beautiful’ and ensure that their body/face/features aren’t associated with negativity in any way. I really believe that before any of the negative nancy’s get to your daughters/sisters/friends, you need to get to them and make sure that body image is as positive an experience as it can be for a young girl. Like I said in my last post about my eye bags, it only takes one person to say they like something about you for your stance on that feature to shift. If it’s the first comment made about something even better.
That’s all I have to say about that at this point. But I can’t promise I won’t have more later! :S