At age 13, I stood at 5’6”, I had braces, glasses, a frizzy mane of hair, and wore tie-dye shirts. Boys didn’t start fan clubs for me. I developed into a curvy womanly body far before my peers and thought that made me attractive as it did the busty girls on TV, but, alas, my large backside just didn’t go with the typical look. Sir Mix-a-lot didn’t live in my town.
I figured I would grow up and get some sort of adulthood street smarts, then go back and tell teens how much simpler this stuff gets when you “grow up” and “mature”. Then I got into adulthood and realized just how wrong I was.
The sad truth, I found out, is that the problem is hardly with young people at all.
I realized the horrifying examples that we “adults” set for younger generations – fad dieting, self-deprecating and bullying one another; Posting pictures with filters and poses that only capture the glamorous aspects of life. We do this all to look better to others, and I imagine we are all guilty of it – I know I am. We need to learn to show our realities and we certainly need to teach young people the complexities associated with those realities. Perfectionism is not attainable – and it isn’t fair to the next generations to make believe that it is.
SETTING AN EXAMPLE
The first step to combating the body image epidemic among our teenagers is to look in the mirror and learn to respect ourselves, so those we are raising, molding and shaping, can see examples they want to emulate. This way they can look up to the way we treat our peers, and ourselves rather than learn to hate ourselves and mistreat others.
In life, we all build our self-perceptions much like carpenters build houses. I highly doubt any of you would build a home on an unfit foundation, and self-love is no different; the groundwork matters. In an ideal world, adults helped us when we were children by preparing the ground and gave us the tools. In an ideal world we started the work, but maybe they laid a stone or two to show us how. They helped us fix the broken spots between the bricks when we messed up, and they started to trust us as our walls began to heighten. And again, in an ideal world, in time we built masterpieces that are all unique and different. But someone (and hopefully many someone’s if you are lucky) had to teach us how to build that home.
The role models we see are important. They are right at home, in school, among family, all around us; they are all of us! We say you must love yourselves and be proud of who you are but in the same breath, we go make fun of our less-than-ideal parts to anyone who will listen. And to make matters more complicated, we adults compare our lives to the examples set by the media just as bad, if not worse. Heck, we have magazine cover stories solely dedicated to looking for cellulite on celebrities! What are we doing?!
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THEN WORDS
The problem here is – over time we have begun to say what to do, and we no longer do what we say. We have created a society where we just tell young people, we don’t always show them – and that is not okay. We have created a society where you have to feel perfect to feel like you are worthy of acceptance – and that is not okay.
STARTING WITH MYSELF
I was lucky that my family taught me the importance of loving myself and understanding my truths, while guiding me laying the groundwork and showing me how. Guidance involves setting a good example. If the next generation sees us degrade who we are and how we look, we really are setting them up to build a shoddy foundation for self love. And I, personally, don’t want that. So I look in the mirror and I start where I can make the most difference, I start with myself.
About the writer: Mackenzie is a high school social worker in Northeastern Connecticut (U.S). She finds passion in working with people to try to increase awareness to the necessity of self-love and to bring attention to body image issues across all genders and ages. Newly into both yoga and blogging, she is just getting her feet wet in the world of holistic health, but finds joy in spreading the word of making positive life changes.