This past week, I did a reading and body image talk at a local library. I love talking to small gatherings because they often turn into interesting and thought-provoking discussions, and I adore the energy of a great exchange of ideas.
During our discussion, one participant -- who runs a program for teen girls through an area women's resource center -- mentioned that she often struggles with talking to "her girls" about body image because she herself doesn't always feel good about her body. It's a question I hear from moms time and again (and one that inspired the subtitle of You'd Be So Pretty If...) -- how can I raise a daughter who feels good about her body when I don't feel good about my own?
I understand that feeling. Believe me, on days when I look in the mirror and find myself displeased with the image that greets me, I feel like a hypocrite. What kind of body image role model am I if I can't accept myself as I am, always?
But as I thought more about that very question, I came to this conclusion: I'm a good body image role model. To borrow a theme from Oprah, what I know for sure from all my thinking, writing and talking about body image is that perfection doesn't exist, including being the perfect role model. There's no finish line in the body image race -- no point at which we can say, "That's it. I'm done." Self-acceptance is a process, and the reality is that we'll be better at it on some days than others.
Here's what I can say with clarity: Awareness is key. Being aware of -- and owning -- the ways that we disparage, belittle, sabotage and beat up on ourselves is the first step in building a healthier body image. Negative thoughts might creep in from time to time, but I can stop, acknowledge them and re-direct my thinking. In doing so, I build my capacity for breaking the cycle of negative thinking and for re-framing my thoughts in a more positive way. And, in time, positive thinking builds on itself and changes the way we see and talk about ourselves.
Making that choice every day, and teaching others that they can make a similar choice, is at the heart of being a good body image role model.
So, no, you don't have to never have a negative thought or love everything about the way you look to set a great example. You just have to be willing to challenge what you think you see.
Here's to all the body image role models out there.
In other news, I am looking forward to hearing my friend and colleague Ellen Morrison speak tonight at Meredith College on "How to Help Others With Eating Disorders." If you are in Raleigh, come on out- she is speaking at 7pm in Ledford Hall (it's free!) to raise awareness about eating disorders in honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAw).