Girls aren’t supposed to want to be pretty and attractive. At least that’s the new message that seems to be out. There's a hashtag movement to shy away from telling our girls that they are pretty, only smart - but why not both? There’s a social message that we don't want our girls to think that exercising is for our own self-image, but only strictly to be healthy and because we enjoy it. More girl-focused campaigns are trying to downplay the truth of wanting to look good and be attractive. And yes, as a woman and mom of three beautiful girls, I get that there's a lot of over-sexualization in girl-targeted ads and media and clothing; trust me, I struggle with that when clothes shopping, pushing my girls past the make-up counter and push-up bras in the junior sections. But part of teaching them to walk past all of that superficial-ness and not be too grown, is to teach them to love their own image.
I workout, in a good week, three to four times. Running, swimming, weightlifting, playing tennis – some combination of those. And in a real good week, I limit the amount of ice cream and chocolate cake I eat to only 1 or 2 servings. Like most women, I have a goal weight and a preferred dress size.
This all goes hand-in-hand, doesn’t it? Exercise, diet, body size. Along with body image and satisfaction with that image. It's an important balance, aligning a workout schedule, a proper diet, and a reasonable desired body image.
So, it's not a secret that I workout and sometimes watch what I eat, partly (mainly) because of self-image. My daughters (and my son, too) know that I try to balance all of this to look how I want to look, or at least something close to it. And here's why I've never really thought of this as something to deny because there’s a few things I want my kids to understand.
Physical fitness and good health is a choice. Exercise is something that fits into a lifestyle, it’s not just about going to the gym at a scheduled time to jump around, especially for children. We can decide to sit on the couch and watch TV for 10 hours a day or go out and ride bikes or run around with the dog and be active. It’s a choice and that choice will affect your health.
Your diet is a choice. And I don’t mean diet as in the all-grapefruit kind of diet, but “diet” in the sense of everything you eat. We can eat pizza and fries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner 7 days a week (not good) or for one meal of the week, balanced with a salad and fruit, and other healthy meals. We can’t eat ice cream three times every day, but we can enjoy a sweet scoop on a Saturday afternoon. We can always enjoy the good things in life.
You should love who you are and what you look like. There is nothing wrong with looking at yourself in the mirror and liking what you see. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to be a better you and figuring out how to be that better self. With proper nurturing and encouragement, that can result into healthier eating and exercise rather than quick weight-reduction tactics, starving oneself, and artificial beauty. Maybe it will translate into appreciating their intelligence and talents, building their confidence. We want our children to love their own natural selves.
You have some control over your life and your health. Granted, there are some health-issues that we have no control over. But the complications of being over-weight and not having a proper diet – that is within our own decision making power. Along with that, hopefully the kids will begin to understand that who they are as people is also up to them – how they act, how they present themselves, what they become. They have to decide who they want to be and be proud of that person.
It’s all about balance and moderation. Yes, you can exercise too little, as well as too much. You can overeat, undereat, consume the proper amount of calories but they might not be all “healthy.” It’s not about being rail thin to show off your ribs, but being a good correlation of height (which you can’t control) and weight (which you can) and eventually, age. Like a lot of things in life, you have to find the proper balance of “enough” and moderate your intake and output.
And I will admit, it is a fine line between making children conscious of a healthy body size and being overly concerned about it, but that’s all part of the learning process – for all of us.
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