Raising Girls in the Modern World: Body Issues

Is it just me or is Peppa the Pig a f*cked up show?

As much as I enjoy the accents, the constant fat shaming of Daddy Pig is just a bit much. I mean, if the kids were calling out Mommy Pig for her big fat belly, we would be up in arms. But for some reason Daddy Pig is fair game.

My kids got onto the Peppa train fairly quickly, and it didn’t take long for them to turn on our patriarch.

And so one of our family rules were formed. A rule that I am hoping will serve them well in the years to come.

You are not allowed to comment on anyone’s body.

That includes positive and negative comments. Having skinny legs or good skin does not make you a better or worse person. They will face enough of that in the ‘real world’. I want our home to be a safe space, despite the reality of sibling rivalry.

Growing up, I was guilty of body shaming. My older brother and I teased my sister mercilessly while she was going through puberty. I believed the term we used often was ‘tub o’ lard.’

We were @ssholes.

Of course, Karma is a B and now I have three daughters growing up in a modern world that is, in my humble opinion, focused way too much on external beauty. With an intense sibling rivalry that comes with three kids within 32 months, they could easily tear each other apart.

The Kinder Diet

According to a report by Common Sense Media, most girls go on their first diet by age 8, although children as young as five report dissatisfaction with their body. This is heavily influenced by things like their family, peers and the media.

So what can I control as a parent? Well for starters I can try and control their access to the media. As a family, we have decided to limit their exposure to beauty magazines so I choose to read books instead. Although I am trying to spare my daughters those airbrushed images, I also find myself needing a reprieve as well.

Along with reading material, my kids are also limited to the world of Netflix and YouTube for their entertainment. This is especially important since according to a report by The Geena Davis Institute/USC Annenburg School (Smith et al., 2013), 87 per cent of female characters age 10 to 17 are below average weight. Heavier characters are also more likely to be older and less likely to be involved in romantic situations. Even in the traditional family-friendly genre women were targeted. Female speaking characters were more likely to be wearing sexy attire, showing exposed skin, and labeled as physically attracted or desirous.

Gone are the days of family friendly television such as Who’s the Boss? Growing Pains and The Cosby Show. Instead, we binge Full or Fuller House.

Arguably the biggest influence on my daughters is the one where I have the least control: their peers. As much as I would love to keep them in a little bubble, the moment they step onto the school bus, they are fair game. I can’t force kids to be nicer, but I can make a point to know my kid’s friends and their parents. It’s also a lot harder to bully a kid when they have two siblings ready and waiting in their corner.

Of course, as much as I try not to read the magazines or consume other media that isn’t body image positive, all my efforts would be lost if I was to turn around and let my kids know I was unhappy with my own body. As hard as it is to grow older, have babies and watch my body change, if I don’t show some self-love, how can I expect my kids to ever learn it? So even though I often don’t want to, I suit up and take the kids swimming often. And I’m lucky to have a husband who would never so much as utter a peep about an expanding waist line (after all he has been on the receiving end of many Peppa-inspired attacks.)

My hope is that these little everyday changes will make a difference in the lives of my girls. While I can never really protect them from the outside world, at the very least, I can create safe space for them to grow up in at home (minus The Pig).

Melissa Robertson

Melissa Robertson

Melissa Robertson divides her time between writing her for the Parent Life Network and wrangling her three children that have lovingly helped her earn the title 'hot mess mom'.