What your mother says
mom can never give me a straightforward compliment about my body,”
“My mom can never give me a straightforward
compliment about my body,” says Sindi*, 32, an accountant from Pretoria.
“She always manages to get in a sly barb,
like, “You have a nice figure, but I was much thinner at your age”
“She can’t seem to help herself and, as a
result, I can’t accept praise. If a friend says something admiring, I
immediately undermine it. I also tent to obsess about relatively small flaws
and spend a huge chunk of my salary on beauty products I don’t really need”
Parents are the primary influence on a
child’s perception of its body, explains Johannesburg-based clinical
psychologist Liane Lurie. “Intuitively, we model much of our behavior on the
caregiver with whom we most closely identify, depending on our developmental
stage. If, for argument’s sake, mom adopts a restrictive attitude to food or a
publicly odious attitude to her own figure, her daughter is likely to do the
same – or, in some cases, entirely the opposite.”
an entire constellation of words, attitudes and actions that come into play,”
“If, on the other hand, our parents offer
loving words about our bodies and their abilities from a young age, we may
develop what psychologists call an ego ideal – an inner image of ourselves –
that’s flexible enough to deflect even the cruelest words later on. Because,
deep down, we’ll know that skew teeth or big ears don’t make us less lovable.”
Of course, spoken words are only part of
the story. A father, secretly saddened that his teenage daughter isn’t the
adorable little cherub she was at five, might begin to treat her indifferently.
She, in turn, may begin to believe she’s become repulsive. A mother who
struggles to relate to her own ageing body might project her insecurities onto
a 16-year-old daughter who’s just discovering her appeal.
Negatively comparing a child to her
siblings or peers could also cause long-term damage, adds Cape Town-based psychologist
Siyabonga Nkosi. “There’s an entire constellation of words, attitudes and
actions that come into play,” he says.
But it’s not all bad news: “Children also
internalize positive words for character formation,” comments Nkosi.
They may not be very well filed, but
they’re buried somewhere in our catalogues all the same.
What your lover says
human to become defensive in the fact of perceived criticism, but there are
known health risks associated with being overweight,”
“One day, a few weeks before our wedding, I
noticed my usually sensitive fiancé checking out my second helping of mashed
potatoes a bit skeef,” confides Nazeera*, 35, an events planner from Cape Town.
“You’re so gorgeous… if only you’d lose a few kg,” he said with a sleepish grin.
“I felt his words like a punch to the
stomach. I nearly called off the wedding, even though I knew his comment was no
reflection of how attractive he found me. Instead, I slowly became aware of
just how much I overeat under stress… In the end, I was grateful for what he
said – if not exactly for how he said it!”
Sometimes, harsh words can be motivating.
There’s probably no tactful way to tell the person whose body you know most
intimately that they’ve put on a bit of a paunch, says Durban-based psychologist
Who among us has never tried to make a
constructive suggestion, out of care, and botched it entirely? Surely there
comes a point hen health trumps hurt feelings? Beekrum believe so. “If someone
makes a negative comment about your body, ask yourself if it was purely
malicious, merely thoughtless, or if there might be any truth in it,” she
suggests. If you’re really not sure, run it by someone you trust to tell you
“It’s human to become defensive in the fact
of perceived criticism, but there are known health risks associated with being
overweight,” says Beekrum.
When it’s completely taboo to say anything
that’s less than adoring about each other’s bodies, this could signal shaky
foundations. Since we’re bound to expand, contract and age over the course of a
long-term relationship, it’s important that we feel valued for more than how we