“Why am I not taller today?” my daughter asked at the end of her sixth birthday. It was heartbreaking to see her cry tears of wishful thinking.
You see, everyone her age is a good two inches taller than her. Many kids from camp and even some parents have often commented on how little she is; that she needs to eat more; on how cute she is; that it is unbelievable that she is in her grade because she is so tiny.
I often wonder how people have the gall to comment on others’ appearance with such frequency, without realizing the long-term impact of their words.
You can hear it everywhere. People constantly comment on skin color, or how fat or thin someone on television is. Phrases like “We ate too much,” “This food has so many calories” are casually thrown around. Yet, the same people hardly ever talk about what is most beautiful about themselves or others.
Fewer people make it a point to talk to their children about moderation in eating, healthy eating habits, the importance of exercise, and that how others perceive us should not be a concern.
We have long-winded discussions in the absence of our children about their academic successes and yet refrain from acknowledging that our very children need to also understand how wonderful our bodies are and the many jobs it does for us.
“Body image” is the way that someone perceives their body and assumes that’s how others perceive it as well. This image is often affected by family, friends, social pressure, and the media. Body image is closely linked to self-esteem. Low self-esteem in adolescents can lead to eating disorders, early sexual activity, substance use, and suicidal thoughts.
When my daughter expressed her disappointment about her height, I sat her on my lap and explained to her the science behind growth. I told her it’s her character and personality that matter, not how tall she is. I showed her pictures of shorter people who are successful and doing amazing things. We talked about her many qualities and how she brings a sparkle everywhere she goes.
We also prepared answers for comments she often gets like, “You cannot talk to me like that,” or “I am small but I have a big heart,” or “It’s not nice to put people in your pocket.” I gave her the freedom to respond to anything she feels is hurtful or a backhanded compliment.
My book Small or Tall, We Sparkle After All is a pictorial description of that day and how my daughter went from being full of doubt to a person who is confident in her being.
I have always been “bigger” than other girls. Girls have often talked about how fat they have become, when in fact they were always skinnier than me. Girls who were never truly happy with their bodies, be it their nose, mouth, hair, neck, teeth, or weight. In time, I have come to realize that this is not something related to girls, but boys as well.
Most people I have come across are unhappy with the way they look and how others view them. They are constantly trying to change or passing self-deprecatory remarks, not paying attention to the little ears listening.
To empower the younger generation, we need to make sure we talk to them about how to have a loving relationship with their bodies so that they can make decisions with their self-esteem intact.
- Avoid overemphasizing aspects of their appearance, particularly their body shape or size
- Talk often instead about their most attractive quality
- Eliminate all the negative, body-related self-talk
- Focus on their personality and what makes them unique
- Talk about how wonderful it is that your body does all that it does
- Find their physical activities that they enjoy or do well
- Have open channels of communication about body or sex-related issues
- Use science and statistics when you can to explain things in a detailed manner (for older kids)
- Talk about the positives and negatives of fad diets
- Read books about body confidence at all ages
- Discuss the many ways that one can stay healthy and eat in moderation
- Teach kids to better take care of their bodies through personal hygiene
- Explain to children that confidence comes from within and not by following trends that are here today and gone tomorrow.
It has taken me a long time to understand how to be confident in my skin. In a world where thin, tall, and fair are pretty, it is essential to talk to kids about the many ways in which they can make decisions not stained by self-esteem issues.
I grew up in a household where food was related to emotions. It has been a journey of a lifetime to understand what living healthy and eating a wholesome meal means. I am trying my best as a parent to pass these lessons on to my children, in the hopes that when they question themselves, they find the answers they need to stand tall and sparkle!