So see what had happened was…
That’s how every good, juicy story starts out, right?
And this… this is a good, juicy story I guess, but with an extremely critical lesson.
This lesson is something that I hope all people, but especially parents, take a moment to really think deeply about.
It all started just yesterday when I was scrolling through the comments section of a thread on my Facebook page.
On Tuesday I posted a raw, real, and vulnerable guest blog post from my good friend, Neghar Fonooni. The blog post was accompanied by a split-screen image of her from 2009 looking incredibly lean and ripped, and then 2014 still looking very fit, but noticeably less lean and ripped.
As you can see, while there is quite a contrast between the two pictures, Neghar is still incredibly fit and quite lean in the picture on the right. So what was the purpose of Neghar’s post?
She was writing a guest blog post for my site about self-love; a message she and I feel incredibly passionate about (as you’ll see!).
In this blog post, Neghar opens up about how she has battled body image issues for years, and how even when she was her leanest, that “motivation” to be lean was coming from a very dark place. A place of self-hatred and self-abuse. A place of deprivation and “I’m-not-enough.” A place of hardcore restriction followed by hardcore binges. A place of, “maybe if I’m leaner my boyfriend won’t cheat on me.”
In short, Neghar might have looked amazing, but inside she was pretty miserable. After years of self-abuse she finally recognized that what she was doing to her body was not serving her. It wasn’t serving her physically, mentally, or emotionally, and she knew she needed to stop.
Fast forward 5 years and Neghar is in a fantastic place. She is happy, she is healthy, she has a wonderful husband, son, and business. She has great friends, and a legion of women who follow her amazing advice on nutrition, training, body image, perspective, mindset, and lifestyle.
Of course getting here wasn’t easy. Neghar has put in incredible amounts of work to get herself to this place. From reading to meditation to yoga to daily mindset practices, Neghar has focused on intense introspection the last several years to get to a place where she feels happy and balanced and vibrant.
She has spent time writing out her “bucket list” and she has done everything in her power to create an amazing for reality for herself, and create it she has.
Slowly but surely over the last few years she’s found an incredible balance between being healthy, active, and fit, while not obsessing over her nutrition and being able to enjoy an incredibly free lifestyle filled with adventure, travel, and plenty of wine.
Lucky for us, Neghar has taken exactly what she’s learned and put it into manuals called Lean & Lovely, which teaches other women how to, “Reshape their body. Renew their mind. Reclaim their life.” through intelligent exercise, enjoyable and moderate eating, and plenty of self-love and compassion.
Because it’s important to me to amplify the messages of people in the fitness industry who I believe are doing incredible work, I was extremely excited to help Neghar promote this “passion project” of hers, and so that’s what I was doing when I posted her image and the accompanying blog post on my Facebook page.
The majority of the comments were extremely positive, with many people piping up saying that Neghar’s words brought them to tears, or that they felt understood by her, or that her story resonated with them. Pretty powerful stuff. Naturally, there were a couple of comments about “which body looks better” but most were pretty respectful, until I saw this…
(Something important to note: I have blacked out the name of this person because this blog post is NOT about a witch-hunt. This is not about what a “terrible person” this man is. This post has a much bigger lesson to be learned from this. This comment was simply the impetus for this blog post.)
That said, I was absolutely appalled at this man (we will call him “Steve”) and his response, and while I try not to engage in Facebook “fights” I couldn’t resist replying.
OK, so maybe I was a bit emotional in that response, but with good reason. Literally this man’s Facebook comment represents the EXACT problem that I am making it my personal mission to solve:
To help women discover what their best body looks and feels like with minimal time and effort, and to help them have grace and compassion for their bodies.
And like any good Internet Soap Opera, Mrs. Fonooni stormed the scene shortly thereafter.
Yep. That’ll do it.
Shortly thereafter, we saw a response from Steve himself:
While I don’t find it necessary to dissect his response sentence-by-sentence as I think it’s quite clear that he is backpedaling like crazy to try and justify his original comment, I will kindly point out that when you intend to convey the message that:
“Striving for perfection is not healthy, but you should always strive to remain fit.”
The best way to do it is not to say:
“Ripped abs are kinda gross on a woman, in my opinion. It makes em look like a dude. It takes away the softness of femininity. But that doesn’t open the door for a flabbalanche!”
Congratulations, Steve. You are officially the worst communicator ever. (OK, that’s an exaggeration, but come on! I don’t think that was a misinterpretation on our part. I think that was major mis-communication on his!)
Looking back, I’m not sure he was using the word “flabbalanche” towards Neghar, but either way — it’s an incredibly insensitive term, and it seems as if it’s a derogatory term directed towards someone carrying extra body fat.
All this said… let me FINALLY get to the main point of this article. The last sentence that the man posted:
“And the detrimental body images you referred to are created by modeling agencies and stylists…not by 40 year old southern men! I assure you!!!!!”
Herein lies the problem.
I will say very clearly that I do NOT know this man personally, although we do have mutual friends. From what I do know of him, he is a father of five who seems to be a devoted father and husband, absolutely in love with his wife and his kids, and he has the highest level of education one can receive (Doctor), and yet it appears that he is taking ZERO responsibility for the impact that his thoughts, words, and actions will have on the body image and self-worth of those he influences. He is apparently leaving it to the, “modeling agencies and stylists.”
Again, this is NOT about THIS man, but rather he is being used as an example of an intelligent man who loves his family, and yet he has absolutely no recognition that his thoughts become his words, his words become his actions, his actions become his behaviors, and his behaviors shape the lives of those he loves.
The point is, it can happen to anyone, even intelligent and well-meaning people.
I will say up front that I am NOT a parent. I was a nanny for 5 years, and I have an adorable niece and nephew whom I adore, but I don’t think it’s my place to step in and criticize and give specific advice about how to raise someone’s children.
Parenting is HARD. Like, really hard. Heck, 45 hours a week of being a nanny put me on my arse every week.
What I *am* doing, is simply asking that ALL adults, but especially parents, take a moment to recognize the impact of their influence on those around them who are most impressionable. Making seemingly small but critical changes in your everyday behavior can have hugely positive implications down the road, and not making them can have hugely negative implications down the road.
How do I know?
Because I work with women every single day who tell me stories of how their wonderful and well-meaning parents shaped their own body image negatively and caused myriad food issues and self-worth issues.
Amy, whom I had the pleasure of being on a panel with at Paleo f(x) in April of 2014, talks very openly about her struggles with weight, food, body image, and her eating disorder that started when she was 11. She tells stories of how in an attempt to be healthy, there were “rules” in her household surrounding food in regards to what kind, how much, and when she could eat. I have no doubt that her parent(s) thought that they were doing what was best for their children, but that’s the point — they didn’t realize that they were shaping Amy’s relationship with food FOREVER.
Amy has been hospitalized, been through outpatient programs, been on medication and in therapy. She’s been deathly thin (not an exaggeration) and she’s been at a healthy weight, but no matter how she looks on the outside, the battle has raged on inwardly. She is working very hard on her road to recovery, and I hope that her powerful story is eye-opening for those of you that need your eyes opened.
Jen Comas Keck
Another women whose story I’d like to share with you is my very good friend, Mrs. Jen Comas Keck. Jen is a trainer, health and fitness writer, and co-founder of Girls Gone Strong. In this article, Jen talks about her absolutely stunning Mother consistently asking Jen if she looks fat starting when Jen was around 5 years old. Subsequently, on Jen’s first day of Kindergarten, she asked her aunt and grandma, “Do I have a nice figure?”
Yes, 5 years old.
In addition to her Mother, Jen also notes that her Father (with whom she has a fantastic relationship!) used to always make jokes or comments about Jen getting a second helping at dinner, so much so that getting more food at dinner became an anxiety-inducing experience for Jen, and has contributed to an increased level of self-consciousness regarding how other people view what/how much she is eating. Jen also discusses how the women in her family would “run for the hills” every time a camera came out at a family gathering for fear of how they’d look on camera, and thus Jen has hardly any pictures of the important women in her life.
Jen has worked long and hard to have a healthy relationship with food, but early experiences such as those have shaped her relationship with her body, her body image and food forever.
Again, I’d like to point out… these parents are NOT bad parents. They are simply uneducated about the impact that they are having on their children’s view of themselves and their view of food, which is the purpose of this blog post. To help EVERYONE recognize the impact that have on those around them.
Former Client (Anonymous)
Finally, I used to work with a client whose Father used to consistently tease her Mother (his wife) about her body and appearance. From tugging on the loose skin on her belly from carrying their children, to mentioning that her breasts weren’t as perky as they were before she got pregnant, to pointing out new wrinkles and gray hair — he was constantly giving her a hard time.
From my client’s account, they seemed to have a good marriage and really love each other, but for some reason he teased her mercilessly about her “perceived flaws” and to this day my former client has an absolute obsession with physical perfection, and has made many of her life’s decisions based solely on how it would affect her appearance, most notably, not having children.
Other seemingly small examples:
- I’ve had a 4 year old girl ask me if she “looks sexy.”
- I’ve had another 4 year old girl cry and tell me that she didn’t want to wear her bathing suit at the pool because the other kids called her “fat.”
- The other day, a friend of mine watched her 2 year old tap the scale with her foot and stand on it to “weigh herself” (just like my friend does every morning). She had NO CLUE that her daughter was watching and taking notes.
- I can remember being a young gymnast and “feeling fat” at the age of 7 despite being a beanpole.
WHAT ARE WE DOING TO OUR CHILDREN?!
Yes, to “Steve’s” point, he is absolutely correct that “modeling agencies and stylists” (and by that, I assume he means the media as a whole) have a LOT to do with our warped view of ourselves, and the warped view that our children have of themselves. That’s is why it’s ALL THE MORE IMPORTANT to do everything in your power to combat these detrimental messages that the media sends to us and our children, and be extremely careful of what they hear and see.
We (yes, I am including myself in this since I have small children in my life over whom I have influence) are on the front lines, and have gobs of opportunities to instill positive body image, healthy habits, and a strong sense of self-worth into the children in our lives. Give them the power and the knowledge and the tools to recognize and reject the messages that the media sends to them.
What can we do about it?
A few ideas that I’ve gathered from other parents in regards to how they combat the media are as follows:
1. *Get rid of your fashion magazines with photo-shopped models on the cover (or put them where the kids can’t see them).
2. *Turn off the Real Housewives of What-The-Eff-Ever on TV (or watch it after they go to bed, although we would probably all be in a better head-space to be a positive influence if we stopped watching that garbage, too!)
3. Compliment your sons and daughters on something other than how they look. Of course you can tell them they are pretty/cute/adorable, but can’t you also tell them that they are smart/strong/funny/kind/caring/helpful/a good friend?
4. Talk to them about the importance of being HEALTHY. Not thin. Not skinny. Not a certain size or weight. But healthy and strong.
5. Make sure that the majority of their diet consists of whole, unprocessed food, but don’t 100% eliminate or restrict anything. Explain to them that certain foods make you feel good and help you be healthy and strong and those are the foods that we should eat a lot, and that other foods, even though they’re yummy, they don’t help us be healthy and strong, and so you eat less of those foods.
6. Be active around them. If you’re active and if you make sure that your kids see you having fun being active, your kids will want to be active too. It’s not about, “Mommy has to go to spin class so her butt will fit in her pants.” It’s about, “Mommy is going to the gym/for a run/for a hike/for a swim because it makes Mommy feel healthy and strong!”
7. Speak to YOURSELF like you’re someone that you love. No matter how hard you try to hide your internal struggles from your children, if you don’t get YOUR head right, it will inevitably shine through.
Yes, Steve. The media is absolutely a huge catalyst for the body image issues that many women face. But as a, “40 year old southern man,” with several children, I would hope you see it as your job to fiercely protect your children against the messages they send, and arm them with the knowledge and tools to grow up with a healthy sense of themselves and their bodies.
Powerful video about young girls and their self-perception. I can’t lie… I feel a little funny that it’s attached to a “National Brand” but as my friend pointed out, that Brand is going to advertise some way or another. It might as well have a positive impact.