“A penguin can’t be a giraffe, so just be the very best penguin you can be”.
Today I would like to talk about body image.
Self-love and self-acceptance can take many years to achieve, especially when it comes to our self-image and our body image.
You may have come from a family with poor role models when it comes to self-love, acceptance, and body image.
Maybe you had a grandparent, sibling, or family member who bullied you, or a parent who was super critical.
Maybe you also had a parent who was critical about themselves, and showed negative traits like putting themselves down all the time.
Whatever your circumstances, if you choose to work on your own personal development and growth, amazing things can be achieved (more on this later). **
I came from a family where people’s looks were constantly discussed.
People’s weight, height, features, clothing, you name it.
I consciously steer clear of doing this in my adult life.
It is just like gossip and it serves no-one, including ourselves.
For example, I had a parent who would always repeat how each family member had “the best” of this or that:
I was told I had the “nicest” eyes, my sister had the “nicest” nose, I had the “nicest” lips, my sister had the “best” profile or silhouette, and on and on…
Really unhealthy behaviour.
It is very damaging to be constantly talked about in this way, because while it may appear like a compliment, you are actually being complimented (or criticized) for something you have absolutely no control over.
What is the point of being told how wonderful it is that you are tall or petite (or whatever it is) when that’s just how it is, and it was of no doing of your own? Or the colour of your eyes? Or whether your hair is curly or straight, or thick or fine?
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about saying: “You look nice today” if your child picked out their own clothes to wear, but just don’t make the primary focus their latest haircut or clothing. It doesn’t define them.
With my kids, I am choosing to focus on things they can control.
Compliments are not going to be: “Look at your amazing eyes and your beautiful hair”, but more: “Wow, you worked really hard on that skill and you got a great result!”
This is not to say that as young people we weren’t complimented for doing well at school or getting a good grade, as this was talked about as well, but it would have been far healthier to let go of discussing all the physical and superficial stuff, like grandparents and parents who would say: “Oh, aren’t you tall?” or “You’ve put on weight”.
It just isn’t appropriate in any situation.
Nobody should speak to you this way, in fact.
It is not okay.
And it is not healthy to be saying these things to yourself either.
Growing up, we heard all the time how my own parent “hated” their nose, “hated” their hair, “hated” their eyes, etc, etc, and they constantly put themselves down in front of us.
It was an extremely unhealthy role model to have, because what did I end up doing as a child?
I looked in the mirror one day (I must’ve been only about 11 years old) and I made a list of everything I “hated” too: Forehead, eyes, ears, etc, etc.
I never knew where this came from, but looking back of course I was simply copying the same-sex role model parent.
Not good at all, and this makes me so sad for the little girl I was back then.
This same parent would also say things to people like: “Oh, isn’t your hair wonderful? I wish my hair was like that. I don’t like my hair”.
So, what would have been a simple compliment of somebody else simultaneously became a put-down of themselves.
We had parents and grandparents who were far too invested in how we looked and the length of our hair, and it even continued when we were adults, not just during childhood, which is a serious breach of boundaries.
I had anorexia for at least one year when I was a teenager, and I am glad to tell you those days are now far behind me.
When visiting my opposite-sex parent in my early thirties I was told that I had “put on weight” six times over the course of four days.
I’ve never once visited since (and not just because of this reason alone, but it certainly plays a major factor in my decision not to).
See, what I had actually been doing throughout my entire twenties and early thirties was getting an education.
I spent a total of ten years at university, and graduated four times, with two undergraduate and two post-graduate degrees, and I am mentioning my years at university only to make the point that instead of being told: “Great job” on working hard and getting my degrees (including six years of psychology – gee, I wonder why I chose that?), all that was focused on when I visited this parent was that I looked different from how I looked when I was younger.
But you know what?
I care more about working on my mind than anything else these days.
I care more about what is going on “between my ears”, as they say.
Sure, I love to work on fitness and health and feeling physically healthy, but none of this means anything if you are not also emotionally and psychologically healthy.
Getting older doesn’t necessarily correlate with getting wiser (clearly), as we have witnessed with many of the older people around us, including the stories I have recounted in today’s post.
Let’s work on getting wiser as we age; embracing our age, accepting imperfection, and learning to let go of things we can’t change while working hard on the things that we can.
** If you would like to find out more about personal development and growth, please stay tuned for my latest video series commencing soon: “Positive Psychology Lifestyle Coaching”.