By Dana Williams
I am getting married in exactly three months. The process of planning a wedding has not only taken over my life, it has turned the positive body image I always thought I had on its head – and apparently taken my 10-year-old son along for the ride.
I learned recently that not only is my son completely fed up with my endless chatter about shades of rust, bouquet shapes and hors d’oeuvres, he can no longer stand to hear me whine about needing to lose weight for the big day.
A conversation I overheard between my son and a cousin his age gave me a much needed wake-up call about how all of my "Bridezilla" antics and seemingly endless complaints about my weight have been sending my child all the wrong messages.
"Be glad your mom is already married," my son said to his cousin. "You’re so lucky you don’t have to listen to all that wedding-jibber-jabber-blah-blah-blah. Sometimes I wish I could just move out until after the wedding so I don’t have to hear all of that woman stuff."
I chuckled to myself, and continued listening.
My son began to imitate a woman speaking in a high-pitched, squeaky voice, his impression of me. "Look at my arms; they are so flabby … I look terrible … Oh, nooooo, look at all of this back fat; I can’t wear my dress with all of this back fat!"
They both erupted into laughter about back fat, and then, sounding more like two middle-aged men than two 10-year-olds, began discussing how women are always worrying about their bodies and how much they weigh.
Now it wasn’t quite so amusing. It was rather sobering, kind of like being lost in the groove of your favorite song and someone suddenly turning off the music.
A constant battle
"Oh my God," I thought to myself. "What am I doing?"
At that moment, I realized that I have spent more time in the mirror over the past few months than I have since I was a teenager, and most of it has been spent complaining about my body and speaking the word fat as though it were a four-letter word.
And worse, not once have I brought up the notion of wanting to lose a little weight to be healthier – I have only spoken about it in terms of appearance. All the while, I never stopped to think about the damage I was doing to my own self-image, nor about how I might be affecting my son.
It’s not like young people today need any additional examples of society’s obsession with weight. Rail-thin girls and women occupy the pages of every fashion magazine, nearly every other day it seems some entertainment news outlets is exposing the latest celebrity battling an eating disorder, and in schools and workplaces alike, those who are considered overweight or obese routinely face harassment, ridicule and outright discrimination.
Keeping a healthy body image in the midst of such a weight-obsessed society is a constant battle for many people – and a struggle I apparently have been losing lately. It’s especially a struggle for young girls, and although I have a son who doesn’t face nearly the same pressure to be thin as do young girls, I know that the issue impacts him nonetheless. He internalizes all the same messages, and already is forming opinions about what makes women attractive and desirable.
It’s not always an easy job, but there are a number of organizations and resources available to help encourage kids to develop their own positive and healthy body image.
• Kaboose.com, an online community for parents, lists seven things you can do to help encourage kids to develop a positive body image.
• At Bodyimagehealth.org, parents can find recommended reading materials, classroom curriculum for teachers and other resources devoted to kids and body image.
• The Body Positive, a nonprofit organization founded to shift kids’ attitudes about weight, health and beauty, offers a series of videos, educational program and materials about body image and eating problems.
I have to admit it took the words of my fifth-grade son to remind me how important is not just to talk about self-love and a positive self esteem, but to model it. I know that the things I say and do on a daily basis have far greater influences on my son than any magazine cover or TV commercial.
I’ve lost 10 pounds, and I did it in a healthy way, by eating the right foods and getting more exercise. And I’m happy about that. But I’m even happier that now, thanks to the reality check courtesy of my son, I’m becoming a better role model for healthy living and a healthy body image.
This essay originally appeared on Tolerance.org, the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama.