How do we raise girls and boys to feel good about their bodies when they’re bombarded daily with images of photoshopped models and celebrities?
She shares with Kathryn Ryan five 'E's for parents to keep in mind – Enjoy, Eat, Educate, Embrace and Empathise.
Related audio: Angela Barnett on body image (Nine to Noon, 3 July 2014)
i find this curious - two photos from today, one edited so my skin is perfect and one real. remember flaws are ok :-) pic.twitter.com/PuRhxt2u2O— Lorde (@lorde) March 31, 2014
Edited interview highlights
E - Enjoy
Angela Barnett: One thing we can do is think about how we are as role models ourselves. It’s so important that we exist in our bodies and we’re happy in our bodies and we don’t ever say derogatory things about our bodies. It’s also really important to not talk about ‘Oh, I’m getting older…’ because we only get one body and one chance to enjoy it.
I’m not saying it’s easy to live like that, and we all have our moments. We all have our off days where we don’t feel great. But if possible think about when you’re around your children, how you behave with them. Be the mum that goes for the swim, if you can. Or if you don’t want to get in your swimming togs get in a wetsuit, which is quite good in New Zealand oceans.
If you talk about exercise, talk about why you do it – ‘cause it makes you feel good as opposed to change your body or lose weight.
E – Eat
Angela Barnett: Cynthia Bulik – I call her the godmother of eating disorders – was in New Zealand a couple of months ago and she was talking about dieting and how we thought dieting was something that went out with big hair in the ‘80s. There’s still a lot of dieting that goes on, but it has changed its name now. It’s paleo or it’s gluten-free or it’s sugar-free. Everyone has a right to their own eating regime, but it’s so important around children to not talk about a diet in terms of ‘I’m eating this food to try and change my body’.
Cynthia Bulik was talking about a classroom of 11 year old kids who were all put on a diet for a week. At the end of the week 70% of them will go back to eating normally, for 25% something in the depriving of food will trigger a binge, so they’ll eat more, then a very small percentage will get sort of a high off the starvation and the deprivation. The starvation high [creates] a risk of anorexia and [the binge-triggering creates] a risk of bulimia or binge eating.
E – Educate
Angela Barnett: This is something I encourage parents to do at home. Thank goodness for the internet now, it’s so easy if you want to get into this subject. Say in a magazine, you flick to an ad that’s got your average typical beautiful model staring vacuously out selling whatever it is, a skin lotion… Start a conversation about it and try and get [your child] to move away from the focus on appearance. Say ‘What do you think her favourite movie is?’ What do you think she wants to be when she grows up? What’s her favourite sport?’
Try and get them to think critically about the messages thrown at them. There’s so many YouTube examples that explain how advertising is made. You can show them how an ad is photoshopped. It’s helping educate them that the world that they see is often a fantasy world, it’s a glamour world, and it’s not based in reality. Lots of studies show that if you teach teens how to be critical of what they’re looking at they’re a little bit less affected by it.
E - Embrace
Angela Barnett: If I do talks with teens I show them what Lorde did a couple of years ago when she was in Chile. There was a photo that came out that had her looking flawless with makeup. She tweeted the photoshopped photo and the real photo that showed the side of her face, the skin was bumpy, with the line "flaws are ok". Show them role models like that.
If your child wants to have an Instagram account – if they’re of an age where you’ve deemed that’s okay – look at Instagram accounts that are full of really creative photography. Encourage them – if they want to document their life and put it online – to find a really expressive way to be creative with it. Don’t just take photos of yourself, but take beautiful photos of things that you see and encourage the creativity. Show them great things to aspire to in that world.
E – Empathy
Angela Barnett: Remember it’s really hard as a teenager. There’s a lot going on and there is a lot of focus on appearance – there is. Everyone is talking about how everybody else looks. A lot of anxiety around then is ‘Am I okay? Will I be accepted? Do I look okay? What is okay?’ The other thing I think everyone worries about is ‘Will I be loved?’
One thing you can help do is explain that love is not about being the hottest person in the room. That might get you attention, but it won’t necessarily get you love. Tell stories of how you fell in love. Obviously there’s chemistry, but there’s other reasons why we fall in love with people.