Do you have body image issues and worry that it’s rubbing off on your children? Here’s why a holiday is great for your child’s body image!
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Summer is here, the first in a couple of years where Covid restrictions have left the building, we are free(ish) to travel again, and my god, aren’t we all desperate to get away?
For the past two years, we have lived on screens, zoom calls, and vicariously through social media. A lack of real people, real bodies, and a lack of interaction with actual human beings has taken its toll on our self-esteem. According to a UK parliament survey, the lockdown has made people feel far worse about their bodies.
In a world where we are all constantly bombarded with the beauty industry and social media’s filtered and airbrushed version of perfection, wouldn’t it be great if we could encourage our kids to love their bodies just as they are?
I genuinely think holidays–vacations to those in the US–are one of the best ways to do this. Growing up in the ’80s with working-class parents, I never saw my mum in swimwear due to UK weather. In my teens, magazines influenced my body image, with ’90s heroin chic and the 00’s size zero obsession distorting my perception of normalcy and my own body.
Now, as a 43-year-old mum of two girls, I am well aware that my relationship with my body will inform theirs. Never before has it been more important for our girls to see what is around them. To witness with their own eyes what is normal. Normal is EVERYBODY. Normal is thin, normal is fat, and normal has cellulite, birthmarks, and scars. Perfection does not exist. Perfection is filtering and airbrushing.
Vacations are a time when our children see us–quite literally–stripped back. It’s our opportunity to lead by example, to show them how to love a body that does not lean into society’s idea of beauty. How we speak to and about ourselves when prepping for a holiday–whether we buy into the narrative of working for a ‘beach body’ or simply take our body to the beach, whether they hear us dieting for our swimwear or simply witness us frolicking regardless in the pool–our children must see us demonstrate that making memories is more important than fitting into a smaller swimsuit.
We recently took our kids to Center Parcs–UK-based holiday villages– where the main attraction is a large indoor swimming pool housed in a huge dome. Families can while away the hours in splash zones, riding the waves in the pool, or chilling out in a cabana. It was while splashing around with my girls that I took a good look around and realized I could see people of every shape and size, tattoos, piercings, stretch marks, birthmarks, replacement limbs, lumpy bumpy perfectly imperfect skin of all shades, and it filled me with joy.
Every single person looked happy, apart from those dealing with toddler tantrums. Not one looked self-conscious. Any pre-holiday body image concerns had been dumped in the changing rooms, packed away with the towels and clothes. All anyone here cared about was having a damn good time.
I wished briefly that I’d seen this earlier in my own life. That I’d realized sooner what bodies looked like away from the magazines, and I felt relieved this was a lived experience for my kids. Research by the girl guide association reveals two in five girls aged 11 to 16 in the UK have seen images online that have made them feel insecure or less confident about themselves, demonstrating crucially why I want my daughters to be surrounded by real bodies more often, and I want them to see the beauty in every single one.
It’s our duty too, as parents, to stop buying into the messages around us.
To stop allowing the pervasive diet culture and the power of social media’s lens of perfection to pervade our discourse. We can start by banning certain words from our conversations with them, by choosing our praise well – no more appearance-based compliments, but by choosing to celebrate achievements and choices, and of course by modeling acceptance and self-love.
On holiday we get to see and celebrate diverse bodies, and you can do this without fear of drawing attention to ‘others’, but by discussing with your kids that bodies are not all meant to look the same. These conversations are important and holidays throw up a convenient opportunity for them to take place.
It’s July now, and my social media timelines are filled with adverts for products and quick fixes that promise me I’ll be bikini ready for summer.
Don’t let them in. Celebrate your and your child’s body, have those conversations, follow the amazing body-positive influencers on social media, get them off the screens, WEAR THE SHORTS, and have an amazing vacation!