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'Jane the Virgin' Star Shares One Thing He Doesn't Want His Son to Emulate

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

It’s no secret parental figures influence much of how we see the world — for better or for worse. Oftentimes without realizing it, parents teach us how to view our own bodies by the way they talk about theirs.

This is something “Jane the Virgin” actor Justin Baldoni wrote about on Thursday in an op-ed for Huffington Post. In his piece entitled, “What My Newborn Son Taught Me About Masculinity,” he shared his fears of passing on his own body insecurities to his son.

While there is a long list of things I may not want my son to emulate, just the thought of him growing up watching me spend hours at the gym, counting calories, watching my carbs, criticizing my reflection and making self-deprecating comments about my skinny, beaten-up legs and misshapen nose was enough to make me feel like I had already failed, and he hadn’t even been born yet.

To put it bluntly, I knew my son would see the fraught relationship I have with my body and that eventually he might begin to emulate that, too. In that respect, I didn’t want him to be anything like me. I want him to know better, feel better and do better than I do.

Research has shown the parental figure of the same gender is the most important role model for a child, as children typically gravitate towards the parent who is most like them.

In her piece, “How I’m Breaking Free of My Family’s Vicious Cycle of Diet Culture,” Mighty contributor Stacey Spencer who struggles with an eating disorder shared about how negative body talk was passed down from generation to generation in her family.

“Look at this pudge,” my grandma said the other day as I was coming upstairs. She clutched her waist in her hands. “I used to be so thin, now I’m gaining all of this weight back again. Ugh. Ew.” Since living with her, I’m noticing some of grandma’s behaviors are almost identical to the ones my mom did when I was growing up…

My mom would make similar comments while watching TV. I don’t think I thought much about these comments as a kid. But then part of me wonders if I just internalized everything, which set me up to be more vulnerable to an eating disorder. That’s when I start overanalyzing everything and decide to stop, as it usually leads to me feeling too much guilt and shame.

Family diet culture is real and it’s harmful. Some moms criticize their childrens’ bodies, others make negative comments towards others and themselves, like my mom did/does. My grandma and my mom are beautiful. When they speak negatively towards themselves, I’m left feeling lost.

While there’s extensive research out there about how mothers influence their daughters’ body image, there is next to no information about how a father’s body image can affects his son’s. Regardless, one 2014 study found over 90 percent of men struggle in some way with body dissatisfaction and/or have negative emotions and thoughts towards their bodies. In sharing his self-described “terror” at being a father to his first son, Baldoni wrote, “My fear sprang from the knowledge that as he grew, my son would naturally emulate me, just as I had emulated my dad and he had emulated his. It’s just what sons do.”

So how can parents model behavior that will contribute to healthy body image in their children? To answer this question, we compiled a list of three tips for parents.

1. Skip Dieting Talk

While it’s completely OK to struggle with your own body image, express those feelings with friends, not your children. Saying negative things about your own body may contribute to a child’s own struggle with critical body-talk.

In an interview with USA Today about how mothers can instill positive body image in daughters, Dr. Leslie Sim, who is the clinical director of Mayo Clinic’s eating disorders program, said mothers should avoid talking about dieting and weight with their daughters at all. “Zero talk about dieting, zero talk about weight,” she said. “Zero comments not only about your daughter’s weight, obviously, but zero talk about your weight and even other people’s weight.”

2. Love and Value Your Children — No Matter What Size They Are

In the National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA) guide for developing and modeling positive body image, they assert one of the most important gifts adults can give children is self-esteem.

When adults show children that they value and love them unconditionally, children can withstand the perils of childhood and adolescence with fewer scars and traumas. Self-esteem is a universal vaccine that can immunize a youngster from eating problems, body image distortion, exercise abuse and many other problems. Providing self-esteem is the responsibility of both parents.

3. Limit Media Celebrating Unrealistic Definitions of “Beauty” in Your Household

Though the media constantly bombards us with images of unrealistic, photoshopped depictions of beauty, parents can choose how much they let these images into their households. In a NEDA blog entitled, “Habits of Body-Positive Dads: How Fathers Influence Body Image,” writer August McLaughlin shares that a key to cultivating body positivity in the household is to keep negative media out of the house.

Children are bombarded with media images celebrating an unrealistic, unhealthy definition of “beauty.” Twenty years ago, the typical model weighed 8 percent less than the average woman, according to “Plus Model Magazine.” In 2011, she weighed 23 percent less. Magazine images are so heavily edited to slenderize women and add six-pack abs to men, even the models don’t appear like themselves. Supportive dads bring light to these issues and keep sexualized, underweight and otherwise demeaning images out of reach.

How do you cultivate body positivity as a parent?

Image via Justin Baldoni Facebook page

Originally published: March 2, 2018
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