Pausing To Reflect with Lisa Foster
Jan. 4, 2022

Self-Image, How It Affects Our Children

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In today's episode, we discuss self-image and how it affects our children with Malia Sperry, a psychologist specializing in feeding disorders and a mother of two teenagers. Malia shares her insights on how she deals with self-image with her own family. Don't forget to join us on our Facebook group at where we can continue this discussion or any other parenting topic. Don’t forget to follow Real Life Momz, so you don’t miss an episode.


Welcome to Real Life Momz. I'm your host, Lisa Foster, and Real Life Momz is a podcast where real moms have conversations about real-life issues that parents deal with every day. Our mission is to connect moms by talking about these topics and to continue our conversations through our Real Life Momz, Facebook group, where we would love for you to become part of our community. Today's topic is something that everyone can relate to. It's dealing with self-image and here to help us discuss it is my good friend, Malia Sperry.

Good morning, Malia. Welcome to Real Life Momz, I'm so excited to have you on the show today. I'm happy to be here, Malia.Your background is you're a psychologist and you specialize in feeding disorders and you also have two teenage kids. And I thought with our topic today being self-image and you being right in the middle of it with your teens who better to chat with. Yeah, absolutely right smack in the middle of it. Um, you know, I feel like I, um, especially as my kids have come into their teens, I've been really reflecting on how hard it is to raise children with healthy self-image even when I'm trying my absolute best with all the resources that I have, it's still a challenge. So what do you think are some of the factors that play into our self-image and our self-esteem. So many factors, we get messages from our family, our parents, our culture, peers, teachers, coaches, doctors. So typically young girls get a lot of feedback about appearance. You know, I love your dress. Oh, you look so cute in that, you know, from very little boys. Yeah. Young, young boys, more about their abilities. Right? Like you're so good at sports, you're so smart... Yeah. So, you know, in, in raising my kids, I was trying, I tried to like to be equal distribution of different types of positive reinforcement. But I remember asking my daughter, she was so little and I was like, what, what is the thing that I say most positive about you? This is with me trying. Right. She says, um, that I'm pretty, I don't think I'd even ever said those words, but I think that that's what she’d been hearing around her. Like that’s, that's what she's heard. Cause I, I feel like I made a conscious effort not to use pretty with her too much, you know, beautiful. Maybe I would say, but just, um, and not use it over and over, but still, that's what she had absorbed. I was very aware of it with having a daughter and she's my older one. So I was very aware just because of the profession that I'm in and work mostly with women, with disordered eating and body image issues really try to be on my game with that. But then like having a son and watching the messages he's absorbing and witnessing, especially because he is into sports and athletic, like the story I told you about taking my son to the doctor for his separated shoulders.  I've been so careful, but in a matter of five minutes, it all unraveled.So he separated his shoulder trying to win a race against his friend. So he dove across this finish line and won, and this race was not consequential. Right. But he won the race, but he separated his shoulder. He said he heard a pop. So I took him to urgent care and she said, x-ray up separated shoulder. He goes and they send us to the orthopedic doctors. And the medical assistant is a young woman. And I know she's trying to make a connection with a teenage boy. And she's like, how'd you do it? And he said, and um, and then she said, well, if you're playing, cause he was playing flag football and he plays baseball. Right. And so he, he separated his right shoulder, which is great if he's pitching or throwing the football. So she's like, well if you're gonna play those sports, you really need to bulk up. You're kind of scrawny. I'm like, oh my gosh, this is like not what we came for. Right. Like feedback on his body. And you know, he's laughing and joking with her. Um, and then the doctor comes in and the same thing.He's like, well if you're going to play those sports, you really need to hit the gym and drink protein shakes and things like that. I was like, this happened before I could even intervene it's happening so quickly. And I know their intention is only to try to bond and connect. And I know they didn't realize probably he was just 12. Like he's about to be 13. I think they thought he was in high school. Not that those messages would be okay ever, but like, you know, he doesn't even have a gym to hit. But anyway, I know that they were just trying to bond. I know that, but still, you know, on the drive home, I'm trying to deep detox him from like, you know, your body is your body and you're growing and nourishing your body and that you don't need to do anything to change it the way it looks, it's working just fine for you. And you know, he's heard me talk about toxic masculinity. You know, he knows what, that kind of bros sports culture that I'm not fond of. But, but still, these are people who medically they're doc. Yeah. These are medical providers. So he's going to listen to this and going for advice on what to do about his shoulder. Right. So I'm telling my son, listen to this man. You know, he said, you can't use your right arm for four weeks. And I referenced that. I'm like, you know, he said, you don't use your right arm four weeks, keep it in the sling as much as possible and do some gentle stretching. Um, because of course my son wanted to go use it earlier because he was like, it's not hurting. The doctor said don't do it. But then the doctor also said a lot of other things that I don’t want you to listen to pick and choose what you, what you take from that. Yeah. And let's talk about going to the doctor. Why is it every time they go for a well visit? It's like the first thing they do is have to like get on that scale. My kids are like petrified of the scale. You know, we went for the well visit and it was after COVID and we gained like, you know, the COVID-19 pounds for sure. And my kids are like high blood pressure just because they're worried about this scale. And you know, I just told them, I'm like, maybe we could just look at it and be like, we're just not gonna do that today. Yeah. We're not just going to, we're not going to take our weight. And it would be one thing if they were just taking the weights and they'd be like, oh yeah, you weigh a hundred pounds, but no, they put it on a whole percentile scale. And then they show you that scale compared to everybody else. And my daughter was like, what? I weigh 50% more than all those other kids. And that totally freaked her out. So I don't, I don't see the benefit of showing them. I'm sure. Like they need it for stuff and, you know, keep it in your chart, but why do we have to like put it in their face? Because my kids have heard a lot from me about the health at every size movement, which is like focusing on just, you know, being the healthiest version of yourself. They've heard that from me and they know that I think, but then it's another thing to encounter culture. And like you're saying the doctor or the scale or this charting, like where do you compare with others as if that has bearing like on your value numbers don't mean that much. I mean, it's, it's, it's hard because you know, we're also in a world where they get grades and valued by numbers, you know, in, in a lot of different ways in their lives. So it's hard to say, well, this one, this one doesn't matter. You know, and I have noticed that um, you know, in the in recent years, there's been some shifting in our media.Um, like if you notice, if you go into Target, it's a good example? You go into target and you see the pictures of like in the women's clothing, they're, they're airbrushing less, they're showing more realistic bodies more, of course, they're also doing it with different types of, you know, skin color and hairstyles. And like just more diversity across the board, including body diversity, which I think is important. Right. Cause, uh, words, we can say a lot of words, but a picture conveys so much, you know, that,  especially children internalize. Right? Yeah. I noticed that. That is nice to see that's been positive. I, and, it makes me happy for the younger generation growing up with that. Um, and trying to recognize the impact, you know, you know, this new information, which I guess is not new information, but about Instagram being bad for teenage girls. Right. Um, self-esteem yeah. Social media, and all this same thing. Right. Like the images and those, those images are so curated. Right. Usually, it's like the airbrushing in the nineties. Right. Like you're there. Um, but the Instagram with filters and, and just looking just right. And what happens is there are comparisons that go on, right? Like in that photo that young woman looks happy and surrounded by friendship or success or whatever. Right. Um, you know, then there's a comparison. Well, I need to look that way or have those things or, you know, be different in order to have fulfillment or happiness. Right. And that's, it's, it's the power of image, images over words. The best we can do is try to educate our kids about media literacy. Right. Which is the same as saying, okay, images in magazines are often airbrushed. Right. There are lots of documentaries around that. I've shown them to my daughter, you know, like here's what the picture looked like. Here's what it looks like when they put it in the magazine. Right. Or historically, um, but Instagram is just, the new way to do it. Right. And it's also people they know. Right. So it becomes a little bit, I think, more realistic, I think. And I think there's a lot of fear of missing out when you see these pictures of these perfect, you know, scenarios that they post, they feel left out, they feel like it's just this missing out. They're missing something. But, you know, I always tried to tell my kids, it's like, well, you see the photo, but what you don't know is what happened before or after the photo, I would love to see those photos posted because maybe it wasn't the best day. And I have had friends, like I've seen social media where, you know, my friend is like with their daughter and  I wish I went to that with my kid. And then I talked to them and they're like, oh yeah, that photo. Yeah. But before that photo, my kid and I had the most horrible fight. It was actually the worst night of my life. Well, it does not seem like that in the photo. Right. And all the views and the likes and that some reason makes it good. But yeah. But it, that all of a sudden is that verification that they need, that they're being accepted and, and that's hard cause we didn't have that as kids, you know, it wasn't like we had our own self-image stuff, but this is like so much more it's all over the world.You're amplifying it. Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting. It sort of feels like the bigger picture is just about external validation. Like whether it's the number on the scale or the number of likes on your photos or any of that type of, if, if I get this external validation, then I'm okay as a person or I'm valued. Right. Instead of feeling it with themselves to feel good about themselves, they need that external verification. I think that was such a key point.Right. And it, you know, you see that with just happiness and even into adulthood, like really, you know, you can watch all these, you know, people pursuing plastic surgeries or, you know, changing their bodies are changing their parents. And then I don't know that that leads to happiness. How do we instill this, you know, internal strength and love for yourself and who you are. I mean, thinking about external validation across the board, right. Just, I think that the, where we can start is always just with our ourselves and our relationship with our kids, you know, how do we, um, you know, focus on helping them find who they are, you know, by asking questions. Um, it's even when my kids get grades like my daughter just started high school. Right. And she got an 89 on a math test and she's like, oh, it's just not a 90. I'm like, okay,  how do we help diffuse one point difference? Isn't, doesn't have bearing on your worth or your intelligence, you know? And, and focusing on what are you learning? Are you enjoying it? Not grade.Some of this is also, um, society on parents, you know, and what the expectation is, right. Because pressure, right. To say that our kid needs to get all A's, if a  kid has a C, so that looks bad. And society looks at me that maybe I'm bad because I'm not making my kid work. Or, you know, and I've been really working on, embracing my kids where they are. Um, whether that means they're an, a student, a C student, you know, as long as they're doing their best, I've been working on that because not being so focused on what other parents are gonna think of me, and what we're going to look like as parents, if your kid doesn't do this, that, or the other thing, right. Did you study?  You did, great. Did you learn something? awesome. That is where you are. That is perfect for you. You know? And honestly, if it was a 79, it's the same, right. I mean, it's your experience. Yeah. And then, and our society rewards extroversion so much also, it's another one of those things that is positively valued I just sat through my kid’s conferences. Right. And I mean, of course, he doesn’t say very much but does the work, gets his work in all that stuff, you know, doing fine. But you know, maybe the only thing he has ever said was, can I go to the bathroom? And I'm like, why do you have to be loud in every scenario? There are these molds that your kids need to fit into. Right. You know, and of course, they have image issues because if you don't fit into the mold, right. They point it out, why couldn’t, my conference go like this, yeah, he's pretty quiet in class. That's fine.And, I'm sure he feels that; that's what I'm saying. It's like, even if, at home, this is where it's hardest, right. Even if at home, they're given the message and we try our hardest, you don't need to fit any mold. You just need to figure out what works for you and be your healthiest, best version of yourself, whatever, that is, that they go into this culture, this society. And they're like, actually, you know, you need to have this type of career or be this type of personality, look this way, have this career like this, this amount of money, you know, to be valued. And,  all we can do is prepare them for that. And that, that's not true that they're gonna hear those messages, but they don't have to believe them. And knowing who you are, which is, it's so hard for not just kids, but adults as well, really embracing, you know, who you are. And you're just confident in that. And it's okay not to fit in, you know? Right. Well, it's okay to be you just different. 

The takeaway, I think is like, how can, you know, just lifting our kids up, supporting them where they are, right. And arming them with the information that they're going to receive, external messages that they don't have to absorb. Malia, thank you so much for talking to us today. You're always so insightful. And I really appreciate you coming on the show, talking. Great talking to you as always.

Thank you for listening to today's episode and come join us on our Facebook group, Real Life Momz. So we can continue to connect and talk about self-image or any other parenting issue that you want to discuss and follow Real Life Momz so you don't miss an episode.