Do as I say not as I do...

posted on: Tuesday, 11 March 2014

I attended a lecture last night at my daughter's school by a psychologist  who has studied, amongst other things, body image and the link to screen time. These two things are front and centre at the moment with a near-teen girl in our midst. A lot of what he said wasn't new-news - although the research to back up his points was staggering and I came away wondering just how delusional we have all become about media images and their effect on body image and self esteem. His view was that this issue has mushroomed as screen use has increased in the last fifteen years and that now, children will absorb a mind-numbing volume of screen images before they are adult. Of course in a room full of self-assured, educated mothers (and some fathers) we all mentally checked off the fact that we weren't guilty of exacerbating this fact. But then as I drove home I thought again...

via silver blonde

I use the computer a lot; for my down time and for any admin I have to do. I'd rather text or email than speak to someone. I am on Pinterest constantly. Less so for Twitter, but definitely Instagram and Facebook. And then there is the blog, littered with beautiful images. I have images in front of me all the time. The thing is: these social media things are fun. But what does my daughter take from seeing me do this? Whilst I am trying to set rules for her to use her phone less, and get off-line (and failing), I find myself inadvertently doing the same thing I am asking her not to.

Last night many thought-provoking points were made about how teenagers see their parents behave and how closely linked that is to body image and self esteem. A daughter for example, will benefit from seeing her father be amorous with and attracted to her mother. A daughter will pick up on whether her father finds her mother (post-childbirth, with wrinkles) attractive and sexy. A son will covet the 'six-pack' referred to all the time on TV and in the press when he is as young as 7 or 8. Ultimately theirs is a generation raised with the expectation that if you look like a model, life will be perfect and that attainment of that goal is everything. Even though so many physical characteristics are genetic, they (and we) are led to believe that it's something that can be controlled and somehow conquered (eat less, move more).

I started thinking that in recent months I have become more down on myself than I used to be, when it comes to my appearance. I attributed this to the fact that 40 was looming, but after hearing the points made in the lecture, I wonder whether I too have been effected by the conspiracy in the media to portray perfect women, airbrushed and flawless. Even the more 'mature' women have the distinction of 'looking amazing for their age'. It's the 'for their age' part that is relevant. It stands to reason that if you spend all day looking at the perfect, real life/body/hair/face can pale in comparison.

I feel like there is a perfect storm right now that will specifically impact how my children grown up. I suspect that in ten or twenty years' time there will be better research and regulation on the impact of media imagery. The concepts will have been blown open and maybe we will all accept that what is presented on-line (and I am guilty of it here) is not real! And maybe girls can grow up feeling less concerned about their next 'selfie' and more concerned about real stuff that matters.


  1. This is such a thought provoking post and one with such a serious message. Not only for our daughters but a timely reminder to us too. I am guilty of trawling the Pinterest boards for the perfect haircut etc, only really to be drawn to the beautiful "model" behind it, so of course it isn't going to look like that if I have the same cut, then I am disappointed.......Hello! What of course we need to understand is that the image is just that, not the person.

  2. Definitely thought-provoking. I've been thinking a lot about how much time I spend on the computer and my phone when the kids are around. I am working on limiting it, although I admit it can be hard. To your point about self-image, even before the smartphone/internet explosion, we had the same concerns stemming from women's magazines. Defining what beauty is. It's certainly bigger now of course, and it's hard to limit their exposure to all the "beautiful people" out there. As you say, though, our kids will pick up on our behaviors - if we are confident and comfortable with who we are, wrinkles and cellulite and all, and if we value our friends and family based on who they are, our children will learn this. (I hope, I hope.)

    It reminds me of a brief conversation I had with my son a year or two ago. He described a friend of his (a girl) as being beautiful. I asked, "Why do you think she's beautiful?" He replied, "Because she's nice...and funny. I think people who are mean are ugly." Isn't that the best answer? I hope he always feels that way, and I will talk to both of my sons often and attempt to set a good example for them so that beauty isn't defined for them by the media.

  3. Just walk down the street and see if you can see any of these perfect images Lou ….. NO, you can't !! There have been very rare occasions that I have seen a really beautiful, well-dressed man or woman when out and about. ….. I could count those on one hand. I think that just proves that the media is SO not real life !! …. and, of course, as you say, we have all of the other avenues of technology to see these flawless images now.
    …. and, I have never liked Facebook. I joined when if first appeared and have hardly put a thing on it. I have seen my children get annoyed at it { and they hate other people putting pictures of them on it } and they have now removed themselves from it. I have seen my friends children's daughters get into trouble from it ….. one is my friend's 13 year old grandaughter who, along with her friend were ' talking ' to an ' older man ' !! I shan't go into detail BUT suffice it to say, she has had her phone, ipod and computer taken away for a while !! …. I really do find it worrying. I also find that some peoples social skills are nearly non - existent, probably because nobody has to talk to anyone anymore. I daily do transactions without talking to a living soul …. I only have to press buttons or s-p-e-a-k v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and p-r-e-c-i-c-e-l-y to electronic voice who doesn't understand what I am saying !! I know that some will say it's because I'm old but, I really don't think that it's that. I have also, on many occasions, been in a restaurant{ or any public place come to think about it } and seen tables of people not uttering a word to each other and just looking at their phones. It does make you wonder where it will all end, doesn't it. I think that we all buy into the ' perfect ' world on our blogs to varying degrees….. I know that I am guilty of it and then I moan that people live in a fantasy world !! I guess we all do to some extent but, as long as we know that nobody's life is perfect and nobody's body is perfect, we shall be alright !!
    OK ….. old person's rant over !!!! haha XXXX

  4. This was a beautifully written and well thought out post. With all the images that bombard us daily, we all have to be mindful of the fact that not only is it not real, for the most part it's unattainable.

  5. Lou- with two daughters...and a son swamped in all that is media-beauty-worthy...I am so with you here!
    My mind is whirling...I've just sent all three of them out on the trampoline, in the fresh evening do *nothing* stuff together- no mean feat when two are teens!! {as you well know!}
    Loving your thoughts! Blogged my *unplugged* morning today!!
    Melissa xx

  6. Happy Birthday wishing you a lifetime of happiness and health. I do believe age is in the mind I have met 20 year old grannies and 80 years old teenagers.