It wouldn't surprise me if many of us have said this to someone else at some point over the past week. These comments don't just appear out of thin air; they are the culmination of many years of watching and learning.
When it comes to pointing the finger for these mental habits, the media is often the first to cop it. However, as a youth leader, I all too often hear of the comments that teenagers get from parents. Statistics show that whether teenagers will admit it or not, their parents have the biggest influence over their life; far above the influence of their peers or the media (Chap Clark, Professor of Youth, Family and Culture at Fuller Seminary).
There is, therefore, the potential for parents have a huge positive influence on their child's body image.
Imagine what our world would look like if rather than being preoccupied with negative self-esteem, teenagers understood that they have a body that is different to everyone else's, and that they are not defined by what they look like.
What's more, parents have the opportunity to sow seeds of love and acceptance in their child's life whilst the media bombards them with ideal images of what they 'should' look like. Picture a great big brick wall and a wave of water crashing up against it. The water cannot break down the wall because the wall has been built well. This is like the positive influence that parents can have in shaping their child's beliefs about their self-esteem.
Recent research has shown that mothers, in particular, have a great deal of influence over whether of not their daughters will develop an eating disorder. Amanda Hills, a psychologist based in London, suggests that children model their parents' behaviours.
This includes things that parents do and say.
For example, if a parent describes foods as 'bad' or 'wrong', this can contribute to unhealthy beliefs about food. Hills describes a 'drip-drip' effect of self-criticism that children hear from their parents. When this self-talk occurs in front of children, it can be expected that children will commonly pick up the same habits. For example, if I look at myself in a mirror and say things like, "I need to lose weight", or "I look fat today", I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years time, my child was echoing the same comments.
Dara Chadwick is the author of "You'd Be So Pretty If…:Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies - Even When We Don't Love Our Own."
Chadwick observes the effects of negative self-talk from mothers on their daughters. However, she stresses that influence doesn't equate to blame. Mothers have the opportunity to show their daughters healthy habits and good food and exercise choices, as well as how to enjoy delicious foods like chocolate and cake without feeling guilty or self-loathing. Chadwick suggests that to be this influence, though, mothers need to believe and practice it for themselves.
Advocating for healthy body image is not just a job for mothers, though. Fathers can have a positive influence on their son's self-esteem as well. We also now know that body image issues have become more prevalent amongst adolescent males in recent decades. Fathers can have a huge positive influence on their son's body image as well.
Instead of feeding your teenager with negative self-talk, consider your own beliefs about your body. Give them verbal compliments about the way that they look; boost their self-esteem. If you're genuinely concerned about your child's health, firstly consider the example that you set. Have you set double standards for your children in eating and exercise? We must model what we want to see in them.
I was having a conversation the other day with one of the young people I mentor about how her mother feels comfortable eating a block of chocolate, but if she did it, she would be considered overweight. This is an example of double standards.
This week, consider how you talk about your body in front of your kids. Count how many positive affirmations and negative comments you make about your own body in front of them. Make an effort to speak positively about your body and their body this week.
We have a generation of young women who have negative beliefs about their bodies, but you have the ability to make a difference when you speak positively about your own body.
Sarah Young is completing her Masters in Clinical Psychology and loves spending time engaging with young people. She spends her spare time writing songs, running and going on adventures with her husband, James.
Sarah Young's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sarah-young.html