The body beautiful?
Shoot me down in flames if you want to, but I think the well-intentioned and probably perfectly lovely LibDem MP and women’s minister, Jo Swinson, is on a hiding to nothing. She caused a minor furore this week when she launched the Government’s Body Confidence Campaign by suggesting that parents should not tell their children they were beautiful and should stop moaning about their own looks in front of their children in case it created the allegedly false impression that looks don’t matter. She told the Daily Telegraph that praising our children for their looks could put too much emphasis on appearance and store up “body confidence issues” later on.
Looks shouldn’t matter – but they kind of do. I’d rather be thin than fat and I’d rather the mirror gave me the oomph to do something about it than waddle around feeling “confident” about being fat. Jo’s argument was that we should praise them for their intellectual achievements or ability to solve a jigsaw instead. What’s wrong with doing both? None are intrinsically “better” or more or less within a child’s control than another. There’s a world of difference between making a child feel inadequate for things they can’t change and lavishing praise on them for doing their own hair, choosing great clothes and generally making an effort. My girls do amazing things with their hair and make-up – they take far more trouble and use far more skill than me, and it shows. I don’t see any harm in telling them so, but I can’t pretend it will have any effect on their confidence. Children judge for themselves how they look and are far harsher judges than I could ever be. Whatever a mother tells her children about their looks will have about as much impact as an umbrella in a tsunami. Telling them how great you think they look is unlikely to have any effect on their already fragile self-esteem anyway – partly because they probably aren’t listening, and if they are listening they don’t believe you. And even if they think you mean it, your words have no currency anyway – you’re their mum and therefore know nothing.
And as for Jo’s second point that mothers should not moan about their looks in front of their children – well, sorry, but I have been doing very little else all week since I discovered that the Borrowers have moved into the house over winter and nicked all my lovely summer tops and dresses and replaced them with ones two sizes smaller. Thanks. I have one summer top that fits and I’m not spending all summer in a black floaty thing that doesn’t touch the sides, thank you very much.
I have waited too long wrapped up in winter clothes and have too many lovely little skirts and tops that I want to wear to spend the summer feeling flabby and fat. I have ten weeks until we go away on holiday to get myself if not “bikini ready” then “swimsuit acceptable” and I’m going to use that time to shape up (or shape down, surely?). The lovely Lee Janogly, the diet and fitness counsellor who wrote “Only Fat People Skip Breakfast” has agreed to take me in hand. I’m going over to see her tomorrow and she’s going to see what she can do for me. Wish me luck – now I’m off to Argos to buy a set of bathroom scales – I’ll report back from the front line of the battle of the bulge tomorrow.
Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn