A recent UK survey found teenage girls are more than twice as likely to engage in dieting if their mother has a disjointed relationship with food. This came as no surprise to me for one of the premises explored in my book, The Butterfly Effect, is that whilst in many ways it would be seductive to think the hard work of feminism has been done (we have a female Prime Minister, a female Governor General…) we have not yet managed to make much more than a crack in our own bathroom mirrors, our self-imposed glass ceilings. I am left wondering how we can expect the next generation of women – our girls – to step up and change the world when we too are preoccupied with wanting to change ourselves, and obsessed with achieving air-brushed perfection. Business woman I have met have said things to me like: “Why is it that I can run a highly successful company and complete an MBA, yet I still can’t manage to not feel guilty every time I eat a Tim-Tam?”. Mothers say things to me like: ” Why is it that my daughter doesn’t realise how gorgeous she is? I mean if I looked as beautiful and thin as she does I would be happy!”
Many of us tell our daughters they do not need to change in order to be beautiful, while we rush for Botox. We tell them inner beauty counts, while we devour magazines that tell us beauty is really only about air-brushed perfection after all. If even the grown-ups are struggling, is it any wonder that our daughters are? Girls cannot be what they cannot see.
The Australian Women’s Weekly Online recently asked me to offer readers advice on how they could help their daughters develop a positive body image. This is urgent and important work given that yet again Mission Australia’s annual Youth Survey shows that for this generation of young people, body image remains the number one concern.
My advice to mothers can be read in full here. The number one message I wanted women to receive? Be a good role model. What we have to do for our daughters is to show them that we love ourselves. This is important business. It’s not just about healing us; it’s about healing our daughters.
When it comes to body image angst and being seduced by the diet industry’s seductive promise of a better life through a new-and-improved body, it seems that in many significant ways we are far more like our daughters than we are different. How desperately sad. But this recognition of sameness is also full of possibility. If we accept that the issues we need to work on affect all girls and women, then we have the opportunity to sort this mess out alongside our daughters. We no longer need to maintain the ‘Mother knows best’ facade and try to ‘fix’ everything for them. Or worse still, rage at their unhealthy behaviours, which really only parallel our own – how teen girls hate hypocrisy! We can join our daughters and work together on something greater; we can together find new connections and deeper mutual understandings.
I discussed this very issue on Mornings With Kerri-Anne today. I’d love to hear how you are showing the young women in your life that loving ourselves is not the ultimate crime (remember those schoolyards taunts? “She so loves herself!”, “She thinks she is all that!”) and that women do not need to take up less and less space.