Every now and again, my children come home from school and mention something about their day that knocks me sideways. One such occasion happened earlier this week when Helen, my nine-year-old, came home talking about Katy Perry.
It was hot and my seven-year-old was about to have a gymnastics lesson. She was red-faced before she even went in to join her class. I passed her the water bottle I hurriedly filled before leaving the house. Helen refused to take it.
I instantly understood why.
“Is it because it’s a Mr Men bottle and that isn’t cool?”
She smiled and nodded in response. It is, after all, the water bottle her three year old sister often takes to pre-school. It had crossed my mind before leaving the house it might not be entirely age appropriate but I was in a rush and I didn’t think she’d go so far as to refuse to use it.
This is just the latest example of Helen’s development. Yesterday we drove 440 miles home from Glasgow, having visited family in Scotland. We had Fun Kids UK on the radio most of the way. Every time a Little Mix song came on the radio, Helen knew all the words.
A school friend had taught them to her. Little Mix isn’t the kind of music I encourage the kids to listen to. Without wishing to sound like a grumpy old man, there’s too much flesh on show and I am concerned about the body image message such groups send out to young kids (boys and girls, few people appreciate this is a growing issue for boys). That’s before we get on to the quality of the music produced by such manufactured acts, although that’s just my opinion.
Even so, I knew full well I couldn’t keep her away from such music forever. It seems that defence has crumbled.
As for television programmes, well, Helen and her little sister no longer agree on anything. Whatever Izzy wants to watch is “too young.”
When it comes to bedtime stories, Helen no longer wants them. She prefers to read to herself. If we don’t stop her, she’ll read an entire book to herself in one night. Picture books were consigned to history a long time ago. These days she reads “chapter books” as she calls them; story books like David Walliams’ Grangster Granny.
It’s not the first time I’ve written about my kids growing up, or at the frightening speed at which they mature. Nonetheless, the incident with the Mr Man water bottle was significant. It was the moment I accepted that Helen was no longer a little girl. She’s moved on; she’s a big girl and before long we’ll hit the teenaged years. You really do have to treasure every single day.
Some months back I wrote about positive body image and what fathers could do to promote it in their children. It’s always great to receive feedback on the things you write and so I was very pleased to be contacted by Stephanie Rosillio who, amongst other things, is the co-founder of Be Real Talks.
If you haven’t heard of Be Real Talks, the first event took place in London in June. It was a sell-out and the theme was “why size doesn’t matter, explode the beauty and diet myths.”
I confess I wasn’t there, but it was marketed as a “feel good” event that was a cross “between a theatre experience and comedy club with a funky workshop element.” In other words, it wasn’t a formal lecture.
Speakers at the event came from a diverse range of backgrounds; comedian Deborah France, performance poet Hollie McNish and Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist who is famed for speaking out against the practice of airbrushing were among those who took part. A second event is on the horizon, but more about that in just a moment.
With two young daughters, the issue of positive body image is one that’s particularly close to my heart. I have real concerns about increasing misogyny in the media and the pressure my children will face to confirm to some unachievable ideal. It’s an area where, sadly, I feel society is moving backwards not forwards.
Needless to say, this isn’t an issue that solely affects girls and women. Men are increasingly having body confidence issues and this is something that can’t be ignored.
As I said, a second event is on the horizon. The Be Real team is keen to hear of the experiences of parents, particularly fathers:
· If you’re a father, what do you do to promote positive body image among your children?
· If you’re a mother, does your partner do anything to address this issue? If not, why do you think that is?
· As a father, what are your concerns about positive body image and do you think your children are under pressure to confirm to certain ideals?
· Have you heard of any examples of your children coming under pressure to look a certain way?
Please leave a comment below and keep an eye on the Be Real website for more information about the next talk.I’ll say no more, but there may be plans afoot to get one or two men involved in the next event.
Before signing off I’m going to leave you with one final thought; there are more regulations governing how you can airbrush a car in an advertisement than a human being. That Toyota’s headlights; airbrush at your peril but that woman’s breasts; do your worst. It’s a shocking fact but sadly one that doesn’t surprise me.
I was at a thought provoking round table discussion the other day. The discussion was about fathers and what they can do to promote healthy body image.
The event was hosted by the Equalities Minister Jo Swinson and I found myself in incredibly impressive company. In addition to the Minister there was a Cambridge professor and the founders and chief executives of several charities.
The nature of the discussion dictated that, with one exception, the participants were all male and most of us fathers. I won’t go into detail about what was said during the discussion but I picked up on something very quickly. Almost as soon as the conversation got underway, several of us dads admitted we hadn’t given much thought to body image issues. I’m afraid to say I was one of them.
My thoughts had been limited to the misogyny my two daughters will face. I believe there’s an insidious and creeping misogyny in the media and I’m very concerned about the increasingly sexualised images that my children will inevitably face as they grow up.
There’s an important point to be made here. I only have daughters but body image issues are increasingly affecting men and boys and we musn’t forget this. Indeed, one of the participants was from an organisation representing men with eating disorders.
I came away from the meeting full of questions:
· What can I do as a father to ensure my children are confident with their bodies?
· What can I do as a father to ensure my daughters lead a healthy life?
· Should my wife and I shield our children from misogynistic advertising and music videos?
· At what age should we start speaking to them about these things?
· Should we be speaking to our eldest already (she’s four)?
The point was rammed home to me yesterday when I drove past a primary school. Walking along the road was a young girl of around eight years of age in school uniform. She was being followed a few paces behind by a woman, presumably her mother, pushing a toddler in a pushchair.
To my amazement the young girl had a Playboy-branded satchel over her shoulder. I tried not to be judgemental but I found it desperately sad that a child so young could open to the influence of a brand that promotes sex and perfect bodies.
So tell me mums and dads, what do you do with your children to promote positive body image? Do you do anything? I’d be interested to hear.