HOW TO BOOST YOUR CHILD'S SELF-ESTEEM
Self-confessed figure-hater Claire Spreadbury thinks it’s time we spread some love
I was 16 years old when it dawned on me I was on the verge of an eating disorder. Nobody talked about anorexia or bulimia back then. All I knew was that I hated my body and felt like a lardy lump of ugliness. I wore black. A lot. And if it wasn't black, I was working the oversized trend way before it became trendy, in a simple but effective attempt to dwarf my body in baggy fabric, so no one could see my actual rolls of fat.
I'd discovered a diet of Crackerbread and 10-calorie soup was making a difference to a waistline that felt like the size of a planet. So I kept it up. Until one morning when I vaguely remember floating downstairs and into the kitchen, before blacking out. For me, it was a wake-up call, and a trigger to my parents to talk to me about other ways and means of losing weight. It could have spiralled into something much bigger, but it didn't, and I'm thankful for that.
What it did mark the start of, however, was a lifelong dissatisfaction with my body.
At that age, I was probably at my biggest - maybe a size 14, so not exactly enormous - but just the other day, someone posted an old school photo on Facebook and I felt disgusted looking at myself. I really don’t want my children to experience this same self hate.
'I really don’t want my children to experience this same self hate.'
As I grew up, I got a little slimmer but still to this day, if you put me in front of a mirror naked, I'll immediately hone straight in on my stomach - something a psychologist revealed to me once at one of Paul McKenna's I Can Make You Slim seminars (he didn’t).
I'm a size 12 now, currently calorie counting, exercising and generally more accepting of my body - helped by the fact it's housed two beautiful little girls - but if I could swap it for a slimmer model, I would.
As a child, I used to have a reoccurring dream about my wedding; the day before, I'd go into hospital to have all my fat sliced off, then they'd stick the skin back in place and in the next scene, I'd be a wonderfully thin bride in a big white dress.
The reality was quite the opposite, of course, involving a healthy eating and regular gym routine. I looked great, but was never actually happy with my slimmer frame.
Over the years, I've agonised at the droopy little triangles I'd been given as breasts (though this was helped by finally being fitted correctly for a bra that was two cup sizes bigger at Rigby & Peller in my late 20s). And still to this day, I cringe over the amount my 'biggest bum in the world' (a phrase coined by my brother) wobbles when I go running.
When I look back and shudder at my childhood photos, recalling the 'fattyfattyboomboom' (and much worse) name-calling, it makes me want to scoop up my girls and repeatedly tell them how amazingly perfect every lump and bump on their baby-soft bodies are.
I wonder, sometimes, if all we need to do is tell our children that they're bodies are beautiful to help instil that inner confidence and get them to grown-up without some form of disorder.
My mum always told me I had a gorgeous face. My face isn't skinny, and I have a Jimmy Hill chin, terrible eyesight and a wonky nose. But I grew up believing I was quite good looking. I wonder how I’d feel about my body if my ‘fat’ had never been pointed out, and if my body had been praised for what it does (run, skip, jump), than for what it looks like.
So perhaps that's all it takes? And, though I wonder whether that will that just encourage the next selfie-obsessed generation to take yet more pictures of themselves flaunting their figures, I think that surely it’s worth a try.
Vanity is a small price to pay for the potential body-haters to feel beautiful.
5 OTHER WAYS TO BOOST YOUR CHILD'S SELF-ESTEEM
1. Make sure you compliment your children on their achievements – but try not to gush or be insincere.
2. Don’t do everything for your kids. Whether it’s doing their own hair, getting dressed or riding a bike – they need to accomplish tasks on their own so they can feel proud of themselves.
3. Always try to lead by example. Tell them how chuffed with yourself you are for running a mile or painting a picture.
4. Show them that good doesn’t always have to mean perfect. Art is a good example of this and you often hear children say, ‘I can’t draw that’ or ‘This looks rubbish’. Show them how Picasso painted higgledy-piggledy faces so they understand picture perfection isn’t always best.
5. Reward children when they do achieve something – particularly if it’s something they said they couldn’t do. So if you hear them saying they can’t do it, use a reward chart, a treat or even money so they have something to gain and more reason to try again.