I struggle with body image just like most women do. I am overly critical about my weight, the size of my hips, my wrinkles, the color of my teeth. I used to think this was a personal struggle but now that I have two young daughters, I realize more and more how my struggle impacts them. I realize how important it is for me to work on improving my body image so I can empower them to feel good about their own bodies.
It’s ironic that I’m an Ob/Gyn who spends every day educating and empowering my patients about their bodies. Encouraging them about what is normal about their pregnancy, their anatomy, their discharge. I love this part of my job. It comes natural to me. But when it comes to self-reflection, and self-love, this is much harder.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a concept called body positivity – the idea that we should love our bodies despite our imperfections and flaws. That we need to reframe our focus from perfection and changing what we don’t like, to appreciating the function of our body. It’s about loving the body you have and not beating yourself up about changes that come from aging, pregnancy, or other life events.
Research shows that as a society we have a lot of work to do in this area. It’s estimated that 50% of US girls age 6 to 8 consider their ideal body weight less than it currently is and 25% have tried some type of diet by age 7. Furthermore, depression is becoming more common in adolescent girls and is often linked to negative body image and disordered eating.
So how to we become more body positive and encourage this with our kids?
How about repeating positive messages to ourselves every day? A fake it til you make it approach. Unfortunately, research shows that this can actually backfire. By repeating positive affirmations that you don’t believe like “I am beautiful” you can in the end make yourself feel worse.
So instead try these 4 tips:
1. Practice Body Neutrality. You don’t have to love everything about your body but you can do your best to at least feel neutral about it. Instead focus your self-worth on elements that aren’t about your physical appearance. Being a good friend. Your work ethic. Your ability to organize. Do this with your kids too. Focus your compliments on factors that have nothing to do with their appearance.
2. Focus on your health rather than your physical appearance. Exercise and move your body because it’s good for your health, your heart, and your mental well-being. Making time for exercise several times per week (even if it’s only 20 min) shows your kids it’s a priority and teaches them this healthy habit too.
3. Avoid negative body shaming comments, especially in front of your kids. If they hear “mommy can’t eat that chocolate cake because I’m too fat” not only does this have a negative impact on you – it’s teaching them that negative self-talk is what women do. Instead try “mommy is going to have an apple because it’s better for my body”.
4. Purge your social media of accounts that don’t make you feel good. So many of the images we see, especially on Instagram, are focused on perfection – looking perfect with your perfect family or perfect workout body. But we all know this isn’t real – it’s just IG real. Instead try to use these platforms as a way to feel inspired and connected. And if your kids are old enough to have social media accounts – encourage them to do the same. Have conversations about this very thing.
Of course we are all human and we won’t be great at encouraging body positivity all the time. But with practice, it can become our new normal. And we can raise the next generation of kids who appreciate their bodies rather than criticize. It’s a lofty but very important goal.
Dr. Quimby is the co-founder of FemEd – a female health education platform that educates females of all ages about their bodies.
She is also a former professor at USC Keck school of Medicine where she led the OBGYN clerkship. She is passionate about education and empowering her patients and her students through knowledge and shared decision making.
She is currently a full time OBGYN at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles.
Dr. Quimby has received accolades for teaching and leadership. She has been named Top Doctor by both Pasadena and Los Angeles Magazines. She is a regular speaker throughout the community giving talks to both the public and other physicians. She has contributed to LAist, SELF, and several other news media sources.
Her special interests include: preconception counseling and improving sexual health
When she’s not educating the public on all things female health she can be found traveling with her 2 young daughters and ever supportive husband.