There has been a lot of talk about how important it is for mothers to model a healthy body image for their children, but the role a father plays – though rarely discussed – is very important too. If our kids are to be as healthy and confident as possible, they need to have healthy and confident mothers AND fathers.
As I’ve discussed before, I had weight issues growing up, and they have definitely affected my body image. Even in my fittest days as an adult I was never crazy about what I saw in the mirror, and today, when I have a spare tire and could stand to lose 10-15 pounds, I like what I see even less.
Though the stereotypical image of a man is of tough guy who couldn’t care less about how he looks, that is a bunch of crap. Men may not verbalize their feelings, but they struggle with body image related self esteem just as women do. And while women obviously have a tough time with societal pressure to look a certain way, men feel pressure too. Often this pressure comes from other men who, far more than women, will come right out and say cruel stuff to your face like, “Dude! Been eating donuts every meal? You’ve gotten as fat as Jabba the Hut!” Though it is our job as men to laugh off these jabs and toss back an insult of our own, they still hurt and affect how we feel about ourselves.
Lately, when I have found myself complaining about my weight or looking in the mirror and saying I’m fat, it has occurred to me that these statements aren’t good ones for a parent to make. They shouldn’t be heard by Annie, who looks not just to her mother for guidance but her father as well, and they shouldn’t be heard by a son (should I have one in the future).
I need to start projecting a healthier body image, but to do this I have a bit of work ahead of me because – to my eyes – projecting a healthy body image doesn’t mean being okay with how you look regardless of how poorly you eat or how little you exercise. Projecting a healthy body image that sets the best example for your kids means being satisfied with the body you have when you make an effort to eat well and get some exercise. I will never have six pack abs (and likely always will have a bit of a tire around my waist… thanks, genetics), but if I respect myself by eating well and remaining active, I should be able to smile at myself in the mirror.
So that is the challenge I have before me, to treat myself better via food and exercise for myself and my kids. I would entreat other fathers to do the same because, as much as we men may pretend not to care how we look, we really do (admit it, bro), and it matters to our children far more than anyone is saying.