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Promoting Positive Body Image in Pre-Teens

I am a big fan of the film ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral and I particularly like Kristin Scott Thomas’ role as the rather uptight Fiona . I love the part where she sits down to a wedding reception table and the woman next to her asks:

[at second wedding]
Mrs. Beaumont: Are you married?
Fiona: No.
Mrs. Beaumont: Are you a lesbian?
Fiona: Good lord! What makes you ask that?
Mrs. Beaumont: Well, it is one of the possibilities for unmarried girls nowadays, and it’s rather more interesting than saying, “Oh dear, never met the right chap,” eh?
Fiona: Quite right. Why be dull?
Mrs. Beaumont: Thank you.

I don’t really know why I thought of that, but it came to me as a I was having a conversation with my eldest about body image. In my head I substituted the word average for dull.

A few months ago a letter was sent  home from school  to say that they would be doing the National Child Measurement Programme for Year 6 pupils, I believe it is in part linked to the Change 4 Life campaign, which I am fully in support of.  I am not, however, in support of getting my daughter weighed and measured in front of her peers. I rang up and withdrew my consent for her participation in this exercise.

Untitled design

My daughter and I had a chat and I outlined my reasons for her not being weighed and measured at this time. Firstly, I knew that she wouldn’t be comfortable with the process, she is bigger than her friends and I didn’t want her to feel singled out in any way (although I suppose her not being involved could just as well draw attention!) Secondly (and this was fully borne out by the experience of her friends on the day) the whole process relates to averages.

On the day that everyone got weighed, she came home and informed me that ‘The average 11 year old weighs 6 stone.’ We both know that she doesn’t weigh 6 stone, in fact I’m not sure how much she weighs as I make a point of not weighing her. I asked her how that made her feel and she said ‘Well I weigh more than that, I’m not the average!’ She was a little concerned, but then we discussed it a bit further. I asked her what shoe size her friends wore and she said it varied between a 1 and a 4. I then asked her what she thought the average shoe size was and she said probably a 3. She takes a size 6.5 shoe, so I pointed out that she doesn’t meet the average there. We both agreed that this was mainly positive as it meant she could only buy ‘grown-up’ shoes and also that she could also borrow my shoes too. We then moved on to height, she is taller than almost all of her friends, so again, not the average and in terms of body shape she has a very mature shape when compared to girls of her age. She thinks this is a positive as people often think she is older. I’m not such a fan as I want to keep her my little girl for a bit longer!

We concluded that she was not average in any way, shape or form (pardon the pun!) We finished our conversation wondering how she could be average weight, if her height, shoe size and general physique didn’t meet the so called average. And this is precisely why I didn’t want any intervention at this age. She is 11 and yes, she is incredibly mature, but she is also getting to the point where she is becoming more conscious about her own body and how it corresponds to other girls of her age. I do everything in my power to boost her body image, because I feel very strongly that she needs to learn not to measure herself against anyone, and certainly not an average. I tend to put the emphasis on being healthy and athletic as opposed to striving toward any particular body shape.


She told me that sometimes she feels uncomfortable because she is taller or her feet are bigger or her body is more developed and I said ‘Yes, but why be average though?’ I carried on ‘ Look at the supermodels, they were probably really tall at school and used their height to have amazing catwalk careers, had they been average they wouldn’t have stood a chance. Sportsmen and women don’t get to the Olympics by being average and actors, artists and musicians excel in the arts through not being average.’ In the same vein of the comment from the Fiona in  Four Weddings and a Funeral ‘Why be average?’ One day in the not too distant future her friends will catch up with her and for a time she will be considered ‘average’, but I hope that she has the strength to be extraordinary because I believe we are all different and special. None of us are ever really average, we are all so diverse and different and that is what makes the world so interesting.

I’m not against Change 4 Life, because I think that it’s important that we all adopt healthier eating habits and take more exercise. As a population we are getting bigger and it’s not just the effects it could have on our future health, but also how it affects our overall well-being and mental health. I just think that there is a different approach needed  and that is mainly because of what happened next at school.

Following the weight and measurement exercise letters were sent home from school. Unfortunately the letters were addressed to the children themselves. At least three children (that I know of) opened the letter, to find it stated in black and white that they were ‘overweight’ The mothers of those children were mortified, how do you start undoing something like that? If it had been my daughter, I would have been fuming. I think at this age (or indeed any age!) there needs to be a subtle approach to weight and body image. Our children are still growing, so the idea of labelling them like this seems to be setting up some issues for the future.

Be Fabulous!

I don’t want food to be an enemy and seen as bad or good, I want it to be seen as fuel first and foremost and then something that can be indulged in, in moderation. I also want exercise to form part of both my daughters’ lives more because they love it, than they feel they have to do it to achieve a certain body shape. I’m not suggesting that the Change for Life programme does this, but I do think that young people receive a lot of mixed messages about weight and health.  I’m not quite sure what the answer is, it’s still a work in progress. Although anyone with pre-teens and teens knows that the building of a positive body image and self image is an ongoing process! Let’s face it some of us are still working on our own body image into our thirties, forties and beyond!  Good luck to all of us x

Pink Pear Bear

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  • Mark

    May 8, 2016 at 8:43 am

    Superb post, excellently written !

    1. Siena Says

      May 19, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      Thank you so much darling!!!

  • Sarah MumofThree World

    May 10, 2016 at 5:27 am

    What a positive post and an important message. No system is perfect and certainly Change for Life isn’t either. It is definitely wrong to send the letters to the children rather than the parents and weight should definitely be judged alongside height. Like you, I encourage my children to be fit and healthy, not to be thin.
    Thanks for sharing with the Britmums teen and tween round-up.

    1. Siena Says

      May 19, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      Thank you, the whole thing is such a steep learning curve! One of many to be faced as the parent of a tween or teen!

  • This Mum’s Life

    May 11, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    What a brilliant post!! You raise some really interesting points, and have addressed them all with well above average skill and diplomacy!! Body image in teens and pre teens is so important, and I just love the conversations you’ve had with your daughter about how average isn’t always what we are aspiring to! And that things need to be approached taking into account the bigger picture, such as her shoe size etc. I would’ve been horrified too, if a letter addressed to my child arrived, telling them they were obese… I also wouldn’t be happy about my child being weighed in front of their peers. Like you, I’m all for tackling obesity, but it can be managed in a much more private way. I spent a lot of time at dance school for pretty much my whole childhood-more time than I spent in actual school. The head of the dance school was a real, old school dancer, with old school views on weight and bodies. She’d pull people up on being ‘too fat,’ or gaining weight, in front of everyone. She’d say that only skinny people made it in dance careers, and she’d show us photos of skinny girls and tell us that was what we were aspiring to. By the time I started secondary school, I was throwing my lunch away, telling my mum I’d eaten dinner from the dance school canteen when I hadn’t, and leaving a few crumbs and a dribble of milk in a bowl every morning, and pretending I’d had breakfast. I still struggle as an adult, and feel that although I loved my dance days, and the people I knew there, the messages given to us about our bodies there, have done untold damage. This is such an important post!

    1. Siena Says

      May 19, 2016 at 12:57 pm

      Thank you! Yes as you can tell I feel very strongly about it. I think that sometimes adults don’t realise the impact that words and actions can have, and the effects of that can be so long lasting. I can only imagine what dance schools could be like (I suspect some still do things like that now!) Thanks for choosing me as a featured post on the #bigpinklink 🙂

  • Adele browne

    May 12, 2016 at 6:11 am

    Excellent article J, I think it’s always been hard to parent young people but today I feel it’s even harder, what with social media pressure etc. G is an amazing girl, and will navigate the coming years well with your wonderful help xxx

    1. Siena Says

      May 19, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      Yes I think that the pressures are even greater now Adele. So many more things for them worry about and so many more influences from social media and tv! Let’s run away to a remote island with no wifi and raise our girls! xxx

  • Franglaise Mummy

    May 20, 2016 at 7:16 am

    Bloody hell! I can’t believe the school dealt with it in that way – with the communal weighing and measuring as much as the letters home!!! My eldest is 9 and at age 6 she came out with “you have to be skinny to be beautiful” in a self-critiquing way – this from a child who is crawling along the average scales as too skinny. It freaked the hell out of me – fortunately at the time she had quite a large female teacher, who was beautiful and fabulous, so we talked about how she was beautiful, and I explained to her that beauty comes from within and through our actions. I think it helped but it’s still an ongoing fight, despite my husband and I being average weight, never mentioning diets or weight, and despite the fact we don’t have newspapers or magazines in the house, and that we only watch box sets or films, so the only “media” or “society” she gets is from the playground. Funnily enough since we moved to Mauritius 6 months ago we’ve heard next to nothing about weight, as life is done very differently here.

    As for your daughter – you can tell her that I had a good friend at secondary school who was 6 foot in Year 8 and she hated it….until she got spotted and got herself a modelling contract where during school holidays she would get £200 a day (in 1990 so a lot of money for a then 14 year old!) for modelling. She never regretted her height again 😉

    I love way you’re helping your daughter with something that most girls and women will struggle with for years, decades even. Good on you 🙂
    Sophie x

    1. Siena Says

      May 30, 2016 at 8:45 am

      Aw thanks Sophie. Yes I couldn’t believe it either. I have to admit out of all the parenting concerns I have had the whole body perception one is the one that worries me as I feel that there is only so much you can do at home to try and pre-empt anything. Get me on the next plane to Mauritius is all I can say!
      I will pass on the story about your friend at school, who knows how tall she will end up being (although she may well have done all of her growing now!)
      Thanks for your kind words and hope you are having a fabulous time over there (not jealous at all!)
      Jules xx

  • PeggyB

    May 24, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    It’s great that you are taking the “not being average” is better route with her. Making it into a positive, instead of a negative. I think there is so much pressure on our young adults these days about body image. When in all honesty you could be the prettiest girl on the planet but if you don’t have a sense of humor, or intelligence then it doesn’t even matter. Beauty fades. #bigpinklink

    1. Siena Says

      May 31, 2016 at 1:37 pm

      You’re right there is a lot of pressure. I thought it was bad enough been a teen in the 80s but wow how times have changed and not always for the better. I always tell my daughter that too, it doesn’t matter how pretty you are, people love you for so much more than that. Yeah and once beauty fades you are left with nothing. Far more attractive to be a fun, happy and caring person I think! xx

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