Is your self-care routine sending the wrong message to your kids?

Worried your personal grooming is setting a beauty double-standard to your children? Communicating your choices can make all the difference.

I was applying make-up one morning as my daughter (then five) looked on, utterly captivated by my red lipstick.

“Mummy, why are you putting that on your lips?” she asked.

Flustered, I searched for a plausible explanation, instinctively knowing “because it makes mum look better” was a sure-fire pathway to a hideous can of worms.

“Because mummy looked tired this morning and if mummy’s bosses think she looks tired they might also think she’s not capable of putting in hard work today,” I finally responded.

She seemed satisfied with that response, but the moment got me thinking: if we’re forever plucking, waxing, painting, dying, and in some cases, injecting, how then do we set a healthy body image example to our children?

Can we honestly say, “beauty is on the inside” and expect them to believe it, if what we’re role modelling flies directly in the face of it?

Self-care doesn’t have to be a beauty double standard

Dr Zali Yager, executive director of the Body Confident Collective and co-author of Embrace Kids, says navigating the perceived beauty double standard can work – if you communicate clearly your reasons for doing what you do.

“If you’re saying, ‘I need to do this and there’s something about my appearance that needs to be fixed’, it conveys the message that our bodies are here to be looked at and that your personal appearance is one of the most important things about you,” Dr Yager explains.

“But if you phrase your actions so that your kids hear, ‘I’m exercising every day because I enjoy being strong’ or ‘I like applying face masks or getting my nails done because it gives me time for myself’ that sends a good message.

“What you really want is to come at things from a self-care perspective so that they understand it’s a wonderful thing to value yourself.”

Mums should model kindness – especially to themselves

Danni Rowlands, national manager of prevention services at Butterfly Foundation agrees clear messaging is important for our kids, but says mothers also need to take time to think about themselves during this prickly period.

“Women face all sorts of pressures relating to staying youthful or looking a certain way so it’s important that we remain kind and non-judgmental of ourselves and others,” Danni explains.

“It’s okay to want to take care of yourself and it’s okay to want to look good – however it’s important that your kids see that you value and appreciate yourself for more than how you look and that there are many other things that are important to you.”

Relatability is important too, Danni adds, explaining that teens, in particular, will benefit from remembering from time to time that mum is a human being facing the same challenges too.

“At the heart of everything you do, make the emphasis on fun rather than striving for perfection.”

Try not to judge – either yourself or others

Now we know how to navigate a perceived beauty double standard, it’s just as helpful to know what to avoid saying and doing in front of our kids.

For a start, Dr Yager advises against weighing yourself and saying things like, “I won’t have dessert because I want to fit into that dress this weekend”.

“Avoiding critical self-talk is essential but so too is passing comment on others’ appearance, weight loss or weight gain,” she says.

“If we continue to do that, we’re reinforcing the idea it’s normal to judge people on their appearance, and we’re also telling our kids on a subconscious level that they themselves are always being judged.”

Don’t forget your own challenges in the face of informing your kids, reminds Danni.

“Choose positive body image and strong women, who are doing great things as role models for yourself, whether that be on social media or a little closer to home, and if struggling, seek out evidence-based resources to help you both.

Navigating a perceived beauty double standard with our kids can reignite challenging feelings about our own bodies that we may have pushed down or never faced during our younger years and it’s okay to take the opportunity to get the help you need.”

If you notice your child is struggling with their body image or perhaps you yourself are finding it difficult to find the right language, you can access information through the Butterfly Foundation and The Embrace Hub.

Written by Dilvin Yasa.