Moms: Why Positive Body Image is a Must

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I am so thrilled to have Elizabeth Walling as our guest blogger this week. I’ve been following Elizabeth for years over at her wonderful blog, The Nourished Life, and am a huge fan. Here, Elizabeth addresses an aspect of healing that we don’t talk about enough: body image and motherhood. As a mom myself (writing this only weeks after my second daughter was born) I have seen my body go through incredible changes – some I watched with fascination, but most, I’ll admit, I watched with some degree of despair. I’m working on my mental attitude daily, and see my older daughter watching me closely. For all the mamas out there: please read Elizabeth’s post carefully, and let’s model to our children what self-love is really all about. 

 

I don’t know about you, but when I became a mom in 2004, I was pretty clueless and I knew it. I tried to learn everything I could about being a good parent. I grabbed all kinds of parenting books. From co-sleeping to introducing solid foods, I had all my bases covered.

Except no one ever told me how my relationship with my body would affect who I was as a mom.

We moms can argue about potty training and strollers and breastfeeding and everything in between. But we pretty much all agree on one thing: we hate our bodies.

Maybe pregnancy did a number on your body like it did to me (can we say stretch marks and varicose veins?!). Or maybe you’ve never felt comfortable in your own skin. Either way, most women deal with seriously negative feelings about their bodies every day.

But I like to say, just because something’s normal doesn’t make it okay. Not that I’m judging — I know personally how easy it is to fall into the body hate trap. I lived there for years. I know how miserable that place can be.

Body image can be such a personal, inside thing. We sometimes forget how much our feelings about our own bodies are affecting the people around us. When you’re a mom, this is especially true.

How Your Body Hate Affects Your Kids

I used to think my body hate was all about me. It was my body, after all, and my flaws that were the problem. And my crazy, obsessive thoughts that invaded my mind constantly.

But I was fooling myself. Life doesn’t actually work like that. Our thoughts don’t exist in a bubble. They affect the way we feel, the way we talk, and the way we make decisions. So in reality, our thoughts impact everything in our lives.

That means your kids, too.

Moms: Why Positive Body Image Is a Must | eatnakednow.com

 

Negative body image can affect our kids in two ways:

1. Monkey See, Monkey Do

“Do what I say, not what I do.”

Every mom knows that line never works. That’s specially true when it comes to body image and our kids.

How we see ourselves, is how they’ll see themselves.

If we want our kids to grow up with a healthy body image, but we’re not living it for ourselves, they’ll see that.

You might say to them, “I love you just the way you are” and mean it with your whole heart. But then ten minutes later they see you in front of the mirror, glaring at your reflection and saying, “Gosh, my stomach is disgusting. I’m such a whale! I’m not going anywhere today.”

What do you think they’ll pay attention to? Most likely it’s what they see you do that will influence their behavior the most.

Even when we have the best of intentions and want our little ones to grow up happy and healthy, if they don’t see us live it, the message won’t stick.

Our kids grow up in a culture where dieting and body shaming are beyond normal – they’re expected. It’s on TV shows, commercials, Facebook ads. Every kid is exposed to this from so many angles. You can limit their exposure, but it’s out there and they’re going to get these messages. They’re going to see the airbrushed photos on the magazines and wonder why they don’t look like that.

So it’s up to us to talk back to that for them. I talk to my kids about balance and moderation and what it means to be healthy. But they see me live it, too. I haven’t been on a diet since 2012 — just about four years now. I decided I didn’t want my daughter and my son to grow up seeing their mom on a diet all the time. (Read more about what happened after I stopped dieting here.)

I don’t want them to live with a mom who hates herself, who never feels thin enough, who always complains about her body. I want them to see their mom being happy and being active and approaching life with some wisdom and balance.

I’m far from perfect, of course. I make a lot of mistakes and I consider myself a perpetual work in progress. But I know it helps them — and me — when I make this a priority.

2. If Mama Ain’t Happy…

Hating your body and being happy are basically polar opposites. Body hate repels happiness.

I’m sure you’ve heard this saying, too: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

I’ve personally found this to be absolutely true. Hating my body made me miserable. It also made me a pretty miserable person to be around.

I was obsessed with my body and my food. My mind was preoccupied with when I could eat next, how could I fit 90 minutes of cardio in today, what would it take to lose another 5 lbs and finally fit in that one pair of too-small-jeans in the bottom of my drawer. If the scale went up a few pounds, I would feel depressed for hours.

This pattern definitely affected who I was as a mom. I was irritable, moody, short-tempered, and just plain unhappy.

As I’ve learned to love and accept my body, I’ve become a much happier person. I’m a better mom, too. Many of the lessons I’ve learned from improving my body image have carried over into other parts of my life. I’ve developed more patience and a deeper sense of compassion. I’ve learned to live more in the moment and be more lighthearted. I’ve learned to drop my need for perfection and just let things be. Those are all must-have skills for a mom!

3 Keys to a Positive Body Image

Developing a positive body image takes a lot of inside work, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. It really comes down to three simple things:

1. Treat Yourself Like a Human Being

I believe healthy changes should be made from a place of love, not hate. Most of us would never try to shame our children into learning the alphabet or tying their shoes. But somehow we think shaming ourselves is the best way to get healthy!

In reality, body hate is taking you nowhere except backwards.

I think most of us know this deep down, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the shaming and the body hate. Especially when it’s part of our culture and most of us have dealt with the struggle for years.

Loving our bodies doesn’t always come naturally. It’s not a switch you can turn on and off — it’s a mental pattern that takes time and effort to develop. When you first start working on developing a positive body image, it can even feel pretty awkward.

So I have a simple place to begin: start by treating yourself like a human being.

How do you treat someone you love? You take care of them, right? You forgive them, you have fun with them, you’re honest with them, you’re flexible with them. You encourage them to set positive goals and to be patient with themselves.

Why not do those things for yourself?

You might not feel like you love your body right now, and that’s okay. Just start with basic human respect. The love can come later.

2. Set Goals Based on How You Want to Feel

Sometimes we get so caught up our goals, we kind of forget why we want to reach them. This is especially true for health and fitness goals.

Forget the concrete goals for a minute. I want you to think about how you want to feel as a woman, and as a mom.

Sit quietly and picture how you want to feel — focus on those feelings and actually name them. Words like fun, happy, energetic, playful, serene, and lovable might come to mind. Don’t try to pick the “right” answers. Any feeling is valid.

(If you really want to dive into this, I recommend checking out Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map. Awesome stuff.)

Narrow it down to a couple words that really strike you – let’s say harmony and playfulness. So when you think about your goals and your activities, or even your thinking patterns, ask yourself: does this bring harmony and playfulness to my life? Or is it taking those things away?

If you start asking this question a lot, it becomes easier to detect what’s not making you feel the way you want to feel about your life. You can see whether your goals are serving you, or if they’re preventing you from experiencing what you really want.

Ask yourself, is your relationship with your body adding to your life, or taking away from it?

We all want to be healthy – and that’s a good thing. It only becomes a negative thing when we focus on the wrong goals or make choices for the wrong reasons.

I recommend focusing on healthy changes that make you feel awesome. When it comes to exercise, move your body in a way that makes you feel energetic and powerful and happy. Do what feels right to you – not just what you’re told is the so-called “best” exercise. Let your body decide. It might be swimming or yoga or kickboxing. It might be weight training or martial arts. It might be dancing lessons!

Think outside the box. Movement is healthy for your body – doing something you love is healthy for your mind. Why not combine the two?

And when it comes to eating habits, choose the same mindset. Make the healthy changes that make you smile. Add the healthy foods you love to your diet, and don’t worry so much about what not to eat.

When you make these changes from a positive place, it brings those positive feelings into your life. You’ll find your feelings toward your body and toward your food change. You’ll feel more balanced, more open, and more positive.

3. Put the Negative Stuff in the Backseat

We need to take the focus off eliminating our flaws or losing weight. For me personally, this meant giving up the need to find control through my diet and my body.

I never really knew obsession with my body until after I had my kids. That was when I started really noticing all my flaws, not liking the shape of my body, and always wanting to be thinner.

I really feel like having kids (especially having two really close together — mine are only 17 months apart) made my life feel really out of control there for a while. When you have two toddlers, there are so many things that’s aren’t in your control!!

When I was obsessed with food and hating my body, I felt like I had an avenue of control. I felt like I could control my food, and I could control my body.

But this really did nothing but bring more misery into my life. It didn’t solve any problems, it just made them worse. Why?

When you focus on what you hate, you just bring more of that to your life. You can’t use negative thoughts and actions to bring positive things into your life. It just doesn’t work that way.

I realized if I didn’t start changing the way I thought about myself and my life, it was just going to get worse.

The solutions?

Focus on what you love instead. Again, we want our goals to help produce those positive feelings in our lives.

My biggest tip is to stop that body hate talk in front of the mirror! It just reinforces the cycle of associating your appearance with negative emotions.

(If you don’t think all those negative body thoughts are affecting you, read this post for a reality check on why this habit is so harmful.)

Find something you like about yourself instead! Find something to be proud of. Focus on those things.

It’s not that the negative stuff isn’t there – we all have flaws. This is NOT about ignoring reality. It’s about choosing to focus on certain things and let others sit in the backseat.

How is your body image affecting you?

Do you struggle with body hate or negative body thoughts? How does that affect you as a mom? Is there anything that’s helped you develop a more positive body image? Share your story in the comment section below!

Elizabeth Walling About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Walling blogs at The Nourished Life, and is the author of The Nourished Metabolism and Love Your Body. She enjoys thinking outside of the box and embracing an approach to getting healthy that’s all about common sense, loving your body, and feeling awesome. You can read more about Elizabeth here. If you’d like to stay in touch, subscribe to Elizabeth’s newsletter here.

16 Comments

  1. Abby

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    Terrific post! I just linked to it from an acquaintance’s Facebook status: her, in front of the mirror, one week post-partum, asking for belly tightening tips. Reframe!

    • Wow. One week post-partum. We are so hard on ourselves! Thank you for passing it along Abby!

    • Thanks for sharing, Abby! You’re an awesome Facebook friend. I wish someone had been there to point me in the right direction back when I was post-partum for sure!

  2. Michala

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    Great article and important message, we will be sure to share

  3. Jen

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    Love, love, love this! As women we often want to teach goodness and love while often sacrificing those crucial life elements for ourselves. Let this begin a new, empowering movement for women to begin loving our beautiful selves, our amazing qualities, our generous hearts. Louise Hay would be very happy. 🙂

    Before food, before sleep, before all those self-care chores we do daily, we must start with loving ourselves. <3
    #mirrorwork

  4. Wendy MIller

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    Photographer Jade Beale has made a beautiful book called The Bodies of Mothers: A Beautiful Body Project. Definitely worth checking out. You can see some of her gorgeous photos on her FB page as well.

    • Oh I know that book… it is stunning and so powerful. Thank you for the reminder Wendy!

    • Thank you for reminding me of that book! It really is a beautiful piece of work.

  5. Penny O

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    Thank you for the article…a nice reminder to take it easy on myself AND others!!

  6. Sony

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    Thank you,very good article..

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