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“Oh no, look at me, Didi, I'm so fat!”
The words were enough to leave me frozen in my tracks and halt whatever I was doing! More so, because they were coming from my six year old niece as she pinched her dress at her waist to tighten it and stuck her tummy out in an almost pregnant manner, imitating what I'm positive she had watched an adult do.
“Who told you you're fat??” I asked, appalled, trying to regroup my thoughts.
Wasn't this a totally unnecessary thought process for a little child? Especially since she wasn't overweight at all. Whatever ‘fat’ she was seeing was a figment of her imagination.
Nobody told me. But look, I can see. My tummy is so fat.” She repeated sticking her tummy out as far as possible, to comic proportions. This was both equal parts hilarious and worrisome.
“You are a growing child. You are going to keep growing taller and your weight will distribute itself all over your body. Grown ups put on weight because they can't grow any taller. So whatever extra calories they eat collects on their body as fat,” I offered lamely, trying my best to pacify her.
Now, I am completely in favour of teaching our children about good nutrition and the importance of everyday exercise. But that day I realized something more.
As parents, we have become extremely careful about how we talk to our children. Our generation is now more politically correct than ever before.
No more raising our hands; no more name calling; no more threats. We are conscious of the fact that we should say or do nothing that can emotionally hurt or scar our children.
However, what we forget to do is display the same sensitivity towards our own selves.
What we teach our children and how we treat them is only a fraction of what they become. A major part of their personality is shaped by example. By what they see happening around them. What we do, is far more important than what we say.
And that includes the way we feel and talk about
ourselves. Because that sinks into their subconscious. And then manifests itself in the way they view themselves.
So our children literally, inherit body shaming and a lack of self confidence from us.
We often blame the media for the unrealistic ‘size zero’ phenomenon which has undoubtedly given rise to an alarming trend of anorexia and bulimia, especially in pre-teens and teens, world over.
And being thin isn't even good enough. Several models and film stars have often gone on record to say that they are appalled to find even their size zero bodies photoshopped to inhuman proportions. The media has glorified the false image of a ‘perfect body’ and has been selling this illusion since years.
However this is only compounded at home when we carelessly toss comments like,
“I've put on so much weight”
“I overate at lunch, I should skip dinner”
“I look so fat in this dress”
The message we send out to our children is clear. The media is right. Everyone should look skinny at all times.
Today fitness is a global phenomena and fitness enthusiasts are in every household, which is a welcome and much needed change from the days when snacks were being deep fried and served in our homes everyday. The importance of healthy diet, nutrition and lifestyle is improving the quality of life and health of many.
However on the flip side, it now is perfectly acceptable social small talk to discuss someone else's body.
“You've put on weight or you've lost weight” seem to have become perfectly normal conversation starters. What follows is that our children are growing up with this emphasis on looking thin now more than ever before. And though we all aspire for size zero it takes a wise 40 year old to finally give up and accept their own ‘flawed, media unapproved’ body type. Our teenagers are unfortunately especially vulnerable.
So the next time we put ourselves down in the presence of our children we should try and remember that we are indirectly teaching them to do the same. Body shaming ourselves in front of them indirectly translates to body shaming them, because that is the notion that they are growing up with.
The message we must consciously give out instead is that exercise is an integral part of our daily routine. But it's not a means of punishment for our bodies when we overindulge. Rather it should be a celebration of what our body is capable of doing everyday.
And most importantly we are all blessed with a shape that is our own. We can alter our body type with extreme control over our diet and training. However, that requires sacrifice and is the media’s flawed version of perfection or a particular dress size really worth it?
So for the sake of our children let's stay healthy, stay happy, accept our body... flaws and all. But most of all, let's be confident in our own skin because the one thing the media never tells us is that the most attractive look of all is self-confidence!