My own manual for encouraging healthy body image

​Mummy am I fat? The words from my eight year old daughter that sent the fear of God coursing through my veins

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Mummy am I fat? The words from my eight year old daughter that sent the fear of God coursing through my veins. Please no. Not again. First my son and his battles with anorexia and now my daughter. I was totally over reacting of course but given the situation I can hardly blame myself. So, once I’d finished mentally going through the trauma of getting my little girl in to eating disorder therapy I realised what I actually needed to do was calm the hell down and come out with something that might actually be helpful to her. Not just in the here and now but something she – and I, could hold on to in the future.

I have to accept that my daughter is going to become increasingly body conscious over the next few years. She’s growing up in a world that is obsessed with physical perfection and celebrity. She’s surrounded by overtly sexual imagery everywhere she looks and on top of that will have to handle a changing body and puberty that seems to be happening earlier and earlier in our daughters. So what she and I really need is some advice. A map of sound thoughts and pointers to navigate our way through the next few years with hopefully as little trauma as possible. A manual for healthy body image if you will.

So having given it some thought and in the spirit of trying my best to be a good mum I’ve decided to draw up my own ‘guide’ to encouraging healthy body image in my children. Please remember I’m no specialist, just a mum with rather a lot of experience dealing with eating disorders. But I can only try!

1, Do not criticise my own body in front of the children. That means no prodding or poking at bits, grumbling about the size of my thighs or asking my husband if he thinks I’ve put on weight – when the children are in ear shot. Ever!

2, No making fun of their bodies - their rounded tums or cute chubby cheeks. As much as I might like to squidge them like I did when they were babies it’s just not appropriate to do so.

3, Tell them often how remarkable their bodies are. That actually what they have is a finely tuned, highly sophisticated machine that if taken care of and respected can take them anywhere in this amazing life. That that in itself is a precious gift.

4, That their machine needs proper maintenance and care which means the right fuel to keep it operating well. Fad diets, cutting out food groups, existing solely on junk food and starvation of any kind does not equal premium fuel.

5, Everything in moderation is healthy. There is no such thing as ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ foods. If they want a kitkat have a kitkat just don’t have 10 in one sitting.

6, That beauty comes in many many glorious guises. That beauty is something that comes from the inside as well as the outside and that just because something is different does not make it bad. In fact differences should be celebrated. It’s what makes this world we live in the wonderfully colourful diverse place that it is.

7, Never ever criticise or make fun of other peoples differences. Everybody has feelings that can be hurt. The more they embrace others the more they in turn will be embraced.

8, That self-worth is built on many many facets. Achievements, goals, dreams, accomplishments, character traits, skills, abilities, good humour and kindness. Not looks alone.

9, That they can’t be good at everything. Everyone has strengths, everyone has weaknesses and that’s OK. It does NOT mean they are failures.

10, That I am proud of them whether they win or lose and that I love them even when I’m cross with them. My love is not conditional.

11, That it’s ok to be interested in their appearance and looks, in style and fashion, but to enjoy it and have fun with it, experiment and be creative with it. It’s not the be all and end all of life.

12, Being perfect would be dull dull dull and I for one am glad I’m not!

13, Laugh as much as possible. Always.

Fingers crossed


Susannah Hebden


Person centred/existential counsellor, stylist, mum of two, adoptee


Go to the profile of Charlotte Howells
over 6 years ago
All sound advice but no1 might be more successful if you made it a rule full stop regardless of whether or not the children are listening!
Go to the profile of Imane Ks
over 6 years ago
Just amazing , thank you :)
Go to the profile of Susannah Hebden
over 6 years ago
What lovely feedback Imane thank you.