That prams and art are not mutually exclusive.

Glory Box: Body Image and Inheritance

Grandparents are wasted on the young. If my Grandma were alive today, the first thing I’d ask her was whether or not I inherited her bottom. My bottom, you see, is curvaceous. It is not my mum’s bottom, nor my sister’s. It arrived on the scene well after my Grandma was in her prime, and I have no means of comparison.

After a futile decade-long search women’s magazines for women who share my round bottom – and after my own efforts in breeding – I know my bottom must come from somewhere further up the family tree. Our bodies come from our families – from genetics – but our understanding of bodies, and of beauty, is not just limited to family. It is influenced by society.

Yesterday on The Today Show I heard Ita Buttrose speak about body image problems in young girls. She told the story of a young girl (around 8 years old) who believed she was fat. Ita had replied, “You’re not fat, you’re perfect.” She argued that it wasn’t women’s magazines that compromise young girl’s self esteem: this is something they learn from their mothers. I agree with Ita to an extent. But where do their mothers learn to hate – or at least see fault in – their own bodies? When compared to a media manufactured image, the common woman doesn’t measure up.

Furthermore, these magazines line the coffee tables of family homes all over the Western world. Young girls are fed a diet of cleaned up, sanitised images of women’s bodies in print media, television, film and the internet. These images lead them to believe that they can obtain the beauty contained within those images, when really, they will probably grow to look like their mum, their dad, their aunt, their grandpa or their brother, depending on their genetic make up.

My mum has always believed she was overweight, and often dieted. In the same breath that sighed over her own weight, she would turn and tell me how much I looked like her. Same height. Same nose. Same shape. I guess that’s why at age 7 I spent an afternoon cutting diets out of Women’s Day. And at age 10 trying to wake up early enough to catch Aerobics Oz Style on Channel 10. And at 14 spending an entire Summer in a cable knit jumper in a vain attempt to hide my curvy body from the world.

I never bought Dolly or Girlfriend as I teen, I preferred Rolling Stone: it was full of people who lived in the world, rather than holding their breath … and their salad dressing. And if I ever have a daughter, I hope she will make similar choices out of an intuitive sense of self worth.

Most women’s magazines speak to the outer shell of who we are. Even if they dare speak to our inner ambitions or intellect in their writing, they immediately negate this rhetoric by their heavy reliance on advertising for fashion and beauty products.

We need to be careful that the glory box we hand down to our young girls is full of pride and strength, not apologies. For the people they become are the same flawed people we are, as their mothers, their aunties, their grandmothers.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: behold your own beauty, and your daughters will learn to see it in themselves.

Did your mother revel in her beauty? How do you think this influenced your own self image?

19 Responses to “Glory Box: Body Image and Inheritance”

  1. ClaireyH

    No idea how it will affect them, but I made the decision early on that the usual Womens mags won’t be entering our place.

    I want my girls to be proud of the strength of their bodies, and never consider thinking otherwise.

  2. Life In A Pink Fibro

    I don’t have girls but I agree with Ita that so much of what we are is handed down from our mothers. What would I give my own daughters? Not sure. I have a healthy respect for my body. Which isn’t to say that I love it. Two different things, unfortunately.

  3. Maxabella

    You are such a wise soul, Karen. I love your line “full of people who lived in the world, rather than holding their breath…”

    I have been thinking a lot about body image since the ‘I heart my body’ blogging campaign was everywhere for a while there. I didn’t like the campaign so much. I don’t think a backlash against the perfect magazine bodies is the way to go about it. I don’t want my daughters to ‘love my body’ – I want them to not really think about their body. I want their body to be a healthy, strong tool for getting their wonderful selves around in. I want their body to be something appreciated by their loving partner(s) in private, not drooled over and commented on in public.

    Why do we need to be looking at bodies so much anyway? Honestly, what’s wrong with a one piece? Why do we need to have so much darn flesh on display? Beautiful bodies are often beautiful because of the artful draping of fabric. Abs have nothing to do with that.

    Sorry to ramble, like I said, I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I’m still not sure what to make of it all. x

  4. Anne @ Domesblissity

    I grew up reading Dolly mags as a teenager Karen but for no other reason than to get tips on how to get rid of acne and what the fashions were (and stories on all the hotties). I never, ever thought of my body image. I played a lot of sport and some would say my body was perfect, well into my 20’s but I never had any thoughts on it, at all. It’s just the way I lived and the way I was raised. I can remember my Mum doing a few old fashioned ‘exercises’ back in the 70’s like ‘walking’ on her backside etc but never dieting or walking/running like some of us Mums these days feel we have to do. (I know I do.) I come from a long line of German home bakers and cooks and they were all curvaceous women but no body image issues and all living well into their 90’s except for a couple who died early cancer-related deaths. I’m not infatuated with makeup and neither is my daughter compared to other 7 year olds in her class who already dress like 20 year olds and wear make up to functions. I know my daughter will try make up when she’s a teenager but I hopefully will have instilled in her a positive (or no) body image.

    Anne xx

  5. A Welcoming Hearth

    Brilliant post! I grew up with a mum who was constantly on a diet. She hated her body and would literally starve herself and make herself miserable in an attempt to lose weight. I couldn’t see it myself, to me she was perfect. I don’t read women’s mags. I have never gone on a diet. I am quite content with my body and I hope that I can instil in my two girls, who are 7 and 8, a love for themselves and a love for their strengths and qualities which in turn will spill over into a love and respect for their bodies and help them to have a healthy body image.

  6. Marion

    You are speaking to my heart here, I love this post.

    Over the years, I have struggled to maintain a weight that society/magazines/my mother would think was beautiful. I finally got to a place were I am okay with how I look and that as long as I am eating foods that make me feel strong and exercising then it all works out. It was okay.

    Then I had a daughter who looks remarkably like me. As she grows, I see such beauty in her turned up nose, her freckles, her brown hair – all the things I have never liked about myself. It struck me that if I can love those things on her, then maybe I can let myself feel beautiful about them on me, too. The result, I think, is this circle of beauty – that I feel beautiful means that I can give her that gift of feeling beautiful just as she is.

    As she turns 11, her body continues to change, and I see more of my qualities – my tummy, my legs – emerge on her. I need to hold on to that feeling of beauty so that I can continue to give it to her.

    Thoughtful post, thank you so much!

  7. Ink Paper Pen

    My mum used to comment on the way she looked: a big bum, short legs and a wonky nose were the usual observations. In my teen years, I thought we were an ugly family! We didn’t fit the beautiful beach blonde mold. and I believed this was the only way to be beautiful.

    I don’t agree with Ita. They aren’t solely responsible but I think magazines have a huge role to play in this stuff. I know because I saw photos of women in women’s mags as a teenager and I did feel ugly in comparison. I also know that in Korea, women have a different idea about beautiful features. Because their media images sell a different ideal. The Korean teachers I worked with wanted to shave their cheekbones and get plastic surgery to create bigger noses or buy whitening cream to make themselves look pale skinned. The whole time I was trying to tell them how in Australia we prefer little noses and tanned skin. That’s why cosmetic stores like The Body Shop sell different products in different cultures. We are told what is beautiful by fashion and our society. And images in magazines help confirm this idea of beauty.

    And you know what? Our society is much more likely to make comments on the clothing/looks of a little girl . I realised not long ago that I ALWAYS commented on the clothes of a friend’s little girl. Cute dress, cute pigtails, cute cardy, beautiful hair, whatever. I never commented on her older brother’s appearance. It was quite sub conscious. I’m trying to be more aware of it because that’s part of the programming, little girls growing up thinking the way they look is the most important part of them. We can only try and be conscious of such things and do what we can to counter act them

    Great post. Sorry for the essay! x

  8. Kate Sins

    My mum was constantly ‘watching her weight’ even though she was always skinny. She put me on a diet at 10. I’m still on it! It took a while for me to realise her body image issues were the cause of mine. Then I started paying attention to what my grandma said about women’s looks and my gawd, what a nasty cow. It’s no wonder my mum was constantly worried. To say she is obsessed with people’s looks and weight is a gross understatement. it’s actually really awful to listen to.

    I don’t talk about bodies at home. Even though i’ve got boys, like bron wrote, I just don’t think bodies are really something we should focus on.

  9. Shelley

    Both my Mum and my Nan didn’t eat when I was growing up, living on cigarettes and coffee instead. I hated watching them live like that and vowed to never follow in their footsteps. Everything I have learnt about healthy eating and exercise has come from myself. My Mum isn’t well at the moment and is 47 kgs. Even she realises now that it’s not the best way to live and is changing her unhealthy ways. I want Miss A to grow up and see it as normal that we eat well and that I go out for a run or to the gym. I was always envious of friends whose Mum’s exercised or sat down to eat breakfast with them. The influence it has is far greater than we realise.

  10. Bright & Precious

    Your last line has stuck with me. ‘Behold your own beauty…’. I have a 3yo daughter and already I’m thinking of the subtle ways she’s receiving messages about beauty and bodies.

    My mother never talked about beauty or bodies (her own or mine) so I didn’t think much about it until my teens when girls in high school got all competitive, and when I started to read my friend’s magazines. And then I felt terribly un-beautiful and started dieting at age 12. So even if magazines aren’t in my home now, I still need to send positive messages about beauty. I’m still trying to figure out how.

    You have reminded me how important this is. Thanks. x

  11. Lauren

    My Nan just started Weight Watches – she’s 80 years old! Funny Nan, she always says she doesn’t like her big bottom, but she’s not overweight at all. It actually made me angry that Weight Watches told her she needs to loose 8kgs, which is ridiculous. They are happy to tell her that so that she spends her money there each week. The weight loss industry is out of control, it’s shameful they would tell an 80 year old lady to lose that much weight, when her doctor said she could lose 5kgs if she liked, but she’s no where near being unhealthily overweight.

    About Ita telling that girl that she’s not fat, she’s perfect, well some kids are fat and perhaps need to be told that they are in the nicest way, to avoid health problems and obesity down the track.

    So has my Nan’s body issues affected me? I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been on these stupid Celebrity Slim shakes for 2 weeks. Enough said.

  12. MultipleMum

    This very issue is the one reason I wished I had only produced boys. I am dreadful at this stuff. I don’t think I have a terrible body image but I worry that The Minx will and all the things she might do if she does. I make a point of telling her, and the boys, how beautiful they are every day. Right now she believes me. I hope she always will.

    This is a wonderful post Karen. x

  13. Lucy Mulvany

    What a great post.

    You’ve read my blog Karen – I have so very many issues as a result of my Mother’s eating and food habits, and my grandmothers to be honest, and their approach to body image.

    Hence I am so determined to not “fuck up” my own daughters relationships with their bodies.

  14. C.B. Wentworth

    I’ve always struggled with body image, but I didn’t inherit it from my mother. She doesn’t give a lot of credit to outward appearances, instead focusing her attention on what she does with her time. I’ve always admired that about her and most of the time I’m able to do the same. However, I’ve never been able to get past being the older, shorter, and let’s face it heavier sister. My sister is a Barbie doll in every way and it effected my greatly while growing up. Its not her fault and I know it’s all in my head. I love who I’ve become as a person, but I’ve never hidden the fact that I sometimes fight with myself about my appearance. It’s one of those things I’m still trying to accept.

  15. the rhythm method

    Just want to thank everyone for their honest responses. This is one of those issues that constantly rubs me the wrong way, and makes me thankful for a house full of men.

  16. Megan @ Writing Out Loud

    I’ve grown up thinking I don’t look good enough – that came not from my mum but from other people in my life who would comment on how ‘beautiful and skinny’ my sister was, and then ignoring me. I agree absolutely with your post, Karen – but I would add that we also need to be mindful of who is around our kids.

    This is something I now think about every single day since having my daughter. I used to make little comments about looking fat in something, things like that – and I’ve stopped saying that stuff now. It’s amazing how when you stop saying it, you also stop thinking it.

  17. tinsenpup

    I’m learning to appreciate my body for what it does every day, rather than someone’s arbitrary designation of what’s attractive. I hope my daughters grow to share that.


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