When I was 14, I worked in a consignment store as a cashier. One shift, I was wearing a cream-coloured sweater that showed my midriff. While a toddler and her mom were at the counter, the little girl pointed at my exposed belly and said in a cute voice “fat.” Her mom was embarrassed, assuring me that I was not fat. She explained to her toddler that it was just my tummy.
Three months after I had my third child, someone I knew told me that it was okay I hadn’t lost the baby weight yet because I am confident. She told me she had to lose the baby weight right away in order to feel confident again. I had no idea how to respond to this half-compliment and possibly half-insult.
Even though these conversations have stuck with me, they never affected my confidence or the love I feel for myself or my body. Part of my confidence stems from my parents and how I was raised. I think being a model as a teen also helped. The modeling classes taught me how to carry myself, have great posture, and show my confidence. When I think back to that experience, I realize I was encouraged to be confident. It wasn’t about body size or even body image. It was about how to take care of myself. Now, it’s my job to model and teach confidence and self-love to my children.
I feel like as a society we have come a long way with positive body image. I applaud all the advertisements that show women in all shapes and sizes, which helps with my task. Everyone at any size and shape has the choice to wear a midriff shirt. Everyone has the right to feel confident and comfortable in their own skin.
This summer, my 10-year-old daughter and I participated in an online Dove Self-Esteem – Confident Me Workshop. It covered body image, social media influencers, self-confidence and feelings. They talked about how a person felt before and after putting on lots of make-up and using filters, and we discussed how we would respond to someone wanting plastic surgery to look like someone else. One of our family’s favourite books is Makeup Mess by Robert Munsch. This book helped me get the message across that makeup is fun to wear to look different, but is never required to look beautiful.
During the workshop, we watched a video with various girls describing one thing that they would change about themselves. I teared up when a girl with darker skin said she wished she had lighter skin. It was heartbreaking to hear this and it was a wake-up call for me to check-in with what my children are watching online and how they are feeling about themselves.
These conversations are so important to have because of social media influencers on Tik Tok and YouTube. I worry about how my children could compare themselves to others and that they may place unrealistic pressures and ideals upon themselves.
And even though she isn’t online yet, my six-year-old daughter said recently she wished she had freckles like her older sister. For me, it was curly hair and my mom let me use hot rollers to make my hair curly. Do we all just wish for what we don’t have? What parts of ourselves are we okay with changing, and what do we lose about our original self when we do change?
My 10-year-old decided to change her style this year. She started wearing cropped tops, which she wears with high-waist pants, so her midriff isn’t showing at school. She told me that her new style is called “softie.” I looked up this style online which is described as “cute and feminine and is incredibly popular on Tik Tok.” Possible softie outfit choices include cardigans, wide-leg jeans, T-shirts with butterfly pictures, pleated skirts and those crop tops.
Thinking about crop tops and school reminded me of how angry I felt at age 14 when my best friend and I were called to the principal’s office for wearing crop tops. We were made to put on our longer gym shirts so that our belly buttons weren’t exposed. This was my first time getting in trouble at school and it hindered my confidence about my style choices. Now, I feel like I have to censor my daughter’s style choices to shield her from the humiliation that I experienced at school. I also worry about someone pointing out her belly. There’s still bitterness about the lack freedom of not getting to choose what I wore to school. My parents supported my style choice and I could wear what I wanted outside of school. This helped ease that uncertainty and allowed me to find what clothing I liked and felt comfortable wearing.
Discussing this crop top subject with my 10-year-old was difficult because I am emotionally distracted by my past-experience. However, together, we decided she can wear the crop tops to school if she wears a longer shirt underneath or wears her high waist pants. This way her midriff is not exposed. She felt it would be no big deal if she had to change her wardrobe to comply with a school’s dress code. She said it is the same as knowing that a bathing suit is appropriate for a pool and not a classroom. At age three, my youngest would have preferred to wear her swimsuits everywhere and all the time because they were comfortable and she loved her swimsuits. She also knows the difference now. My daughters have a better understanding of a time and place for certain attire than I did. Perhaps, these subjects are approached with more open lines of communication nowadays.
It’s important to continue to have positive body image, self-confidence, and style discussions with our children at every age. I am also an advocate for teaching our children to appreciate what they have by focusing on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative (although, it is important to uncover negative feelings too). Last night I asked all my children what they like about their bodies. My six-year-old’s response? “I like that I look like me.”
Our conversations are paying off.