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Win £100 high street voucher! Join Q&A with Dr Susie Orbach about self-esteem and body confidence - ANSWERS BACK

(72 Posts)
HeatherMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 02-Oct-13 10:49:00

We're running a Q&A this week with Dr Susie Orbach about body confidence and self-esteem issues of young adults and children. Susie is a practising psychotherapist, writer and co-founder of The Women's Therapy Centre.
Susie is also co-founder of The Women's Therapy Centre in London and has spoken at the UN on women and their bodies. Her books include Fat is a Feminist Issue and Hunger Strike. Shes happy to answer your questions this week on how you can help your child avoid the pressures of conforming to beauty stereotypes and feel confident with their bodies. Post your questions before Monday 7 October and youll be entered into a draw to win a £100 high street voucher. We'll upload her answers to this thread on 14 October.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project was founded in 2004. Their mantra is that beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety. The projects aim is to ensure the next generation of women grows up to be happy and free from misconstrued beauty stereotypes and the burden of self-doubt. They handle: friends and relationships, bullying, puberty and the role of the media. Susie Orbach is a co-originator of the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty and its related research into women and their relationship with beauty. 
The Dove Self-Esteem Projects goal is to improve the self-esteem of more than 15 million girls by 2015.
This Q&A is sponsored by Dove.

WowOoo Mon 07-Oct-13 12:49:19

Hello Susie,

I'll repeat what OmNom mentioned above!

My sons seem confident and happy about their body image so far.

The difference I've noticed when we have girls around to play is that he will talk about being strong and fit and wanting muscles, whereas the girls (only 7-10 years old) will talk about healthy eating to stay slim. I was shocked to hear this from such young girls. They also seemed a bit against the idea of a woman being physically strong, like Jessica Ennis (a great role model in my opinion) .

They are not my girls but I've discussed this many times over dinner. What other differences have you noticed?

BlackberrySeason Mon 07-Oct-13 13:00:49

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

WillieWaggledagger Mon 07-Oct-13 13:25:58

inmysparetime that's interesting - i've worked really hard at trying to listen to my body's signals, but i find that other people are terribly interested in my personal eating habits in a way that makes me doubt my behaviour

e.g. last week i was at a meeting and lunch was served. i chose not to have any because:

1. i had eaten a large breakfast and wasn't hungry
2. it didn't look very appetising (curling sandwiches and crisps)

one woman noticed and assumed it was because i was 'on a diet', and of course by saying the above i sounded like i was protesting too much, but i wasn't prepared to force myself to eat under those circumstances (which i might have done in the past). i find it infuriating that my eating choices are so scrutinised, but is it just other people 'caring'?

Stravy Mon 07-Oct-13 13:33:14

My daughter (8) is extremely interested in fashion and make-up. This is not something she gets from me, but from her father (fashion mainly, he doesn't wear make up but can have a conversation about it). In a man it is viewed as 'cool' and 'metrosexual' and in a girl it's perceived as conforming to a sexualised ideal or something. Part of me thinks that this is something that should be discouraged at all costs, this focus on looks and appearance and image and another part of me thinks that this is a genuine interest, and something she is actually good at (she can use a sewing machine to customise her clothes, she 'designs' clothes, she can walk into a shop and pick the most unlikely things and look really good, she spends ages drawing eyes and then designing eye make-up and makes overly analytical comments about clothes 'that collar should be rounder so it matches the length of the sleeves' confused ).

She wants to be a make-up artist, a hairdresser or a fashion designer and a big part of me is screaming Nooooo, its so superficial but I do wonder if it is something that is 'in' her rather than something that society has 'done' to her and I should get over myself and be less hand wringy. I feel I am damaging her for letting her focus so much on appearance and in the next breath I feel I am damaging her for giving her the idea that everything she values is trash.

At the moment she seems very confident. She has never mentioned diets (I've never been on one) but she is likely to be left with a large scar on her face from something that happened a couple of months ago and I wonder if that, and weight, will become an issue as she gets older. I worry that her overt femininity, for want of a better word might be a rebellion against my lack of femininity. (Think shaved hair, flat boots, little blazers - make up and dresses for 'occasions' only) Although I suppose there isn't much I can do about that.

OK that was a huge ramble but I suppose my question is how to I help my daughter avoid the pressure of conforming to an ideal when her interest in fashion and make-up is both enormous and seemingly innate?

BellaVida Mon 07-Oct-13 13:58:59

I think it is easier to boost self-esteem when children are younger, as they have such an important, dependent relationship with their parents.

My question is apart from keep repeating the same mantras of 'we are all different', 'you are amazing just as you are', 'beauty is on the inside' etc, how do we really support children to deflect other overt and tacit criticism from other people and the media?

timidviper Mon 07-Oct-13 14:35:36

My question is, in a way, related to inmysparetime and willie's comments.

I am hugely overweight and for the last year have been trying to change the way I eat and listen to my body's signals but I am aware that I have not really properly accomplished it yet as, although I can manage eating healthily on a day-to-day basis my idea of a treat is still unhealthy food and far too much of it! blush I feel as though I am managing a symptom rather than addressing the underlying complaint if you see what I mean.

I assume there must be some psychological imperative behind this abnormal eating. How would you suggest addressing this? So many books and experts link it with abuse and traumatic childhoods and I can say categorically that I had neither of those, I had a very unremarkable childhood and, thank God, have no experience of abuse.

StainlessSteelCat Mon 07-Oct-13 14:37:53

I am very overweight, I have 2 sons and a daughter. sons appear to be following their dad and are skinny. daughter is following me and is overweight. grandparents have noticed, one set has made comments to her. how do i arm her against the damage comments can do (ie bolster her self esteem) while promoting being a healthy weight? she is 4. ideally she'll lose extra weight over next year or so, but what to do in mean time? also, how do I explain my dieting without it affecting her eating patterns?

mignonette Mon 07-Oct-13 14:49:25

Good afternoon Dr Orbach (Susie).

I'd like to say that 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' was a seminal read for me as a teenager and I have given a copy to my daughter, son and stepdaughters. I hope it will become as meaningful to them as it is to me.

I wondered if you saw The Times 'Style' magazine fashion spread yesterday (Sunday 6th Oct) in which a model who was significantly larger was photographed naked alongside a clothed model of the dimensions one has come to expect for fashion models. Despite the 'theme' being that of (clothed) artist and her (naked) model unfortunately the message I drew from it was of there being no high fashion clothing made in a size large enough to fit the larger model.

In the face of this, I have a niece of 9 living in Germany who is fashion crazy (the design and style aspect of the industry) and I wondered if you knew of any books about fashion/style that would convey a non negative message about what size or shape a stylish woman should be? I too adore fashion (especially the culture/history of it) but I do struggle with this industry that seems hellbent on erasing the body of the woman inside of its clothing.

Should I try to discourage this interest in my niece instead? She is already noting what a woman 'should' look like sadly in the eyes of European media.

Trills Mon 07-Oct-13 15:09:33

If everyone were confident and happy with their body "just as they are", wouldn't Dove's sales drop dramatically?

dahville Mon 07-Oct-13 15:36:08

How can you raise your children to stand up to sizeism and support other children who are being bullied because of their size (large or small)?

johnworf Mon 07-Oct-13 16:05:22

Hi Susie,

I have a 5 year old DD who is starting to talk about 'not wanting to get fat' and about 'how pretty she is'. I have no idea where this has come from. I am overweight but do not diet and certainly do not talk about my weight, either to her or anyone else in the house. I'm happy with myself and my self esteem is very good.

I can only think it has come from things she sees around her and/or school friends.

I have told her that being beautiful is not the most important thing in life and that being caring and kind is. I don't want her to get hung up on her weight, ever, and certainly not at such a tender age. I find it very unsettling that she is even talking about it.

My question is what can I do to instill a healthy view of her body?

(P.s. she is not overweight. She is on the 25th centile and is well within healthy range weight/height. )

ProfondoRosso Mon 07-Oct-13 17:44:26

Hi Susie,

Great to see you on here! I had an eating disorder as a teenager, as did my mother and sister. My husband is on a permanent diet and sometimes I think I eat too much just to spite him, and others who go on about losing weight all the time (such as my mother), to show that I'm 'over' all that and don't care. I get very defensive if anyone suggests what I'm eating is unhealthy, or that I might need to lose a little weight.

I love these people, but hate all the weight-talk, and the aggressive side of me that comes out when we talk about weight. I really just want to find a healthy attitude to my weight. Do you have any advice on cultivating a healthy attitude which embraces being healthy? I want to stop reacting to conversations about weight with hurt and aggression.

daisymaebee Mon 07-Oct-13 17:45:35

Since becoming a Mum of two wonderful children I have found that I have put on tons of weight that I can't shift. have forgotten how to communicate with other people and to be honest I totally hate the way that I am. It even causes lots of problems in the bedroom department as I so ashamed of the way I look. I have always had a problem with food, stuffing packets down the side of the sofa quick when someone enters the room and binging just to make myself feel better, but of coarse I feel worse. I don't even look in the mirror anymore. I won't buy clothes and own I pair of jeans 5 tops and a dress. I can't stand looking at myself in a full length mirror, and hate catching a glance of myself when walking past shop windows. I am becoming more depressed about this all of the time. There are far too many yummy mummys at the parent and toddler groups and I feel isolated and on my own. When someone speaks to me I turn red start to sweat and leave asap. I don't have many friends because of the way that I feel. Any advice would be fab

daisymaebee Mon 07-Oct-13 17:48:17

I forgot to add that I don't want my children to see me yo yo dieting and getting no where. My 3 year old already see's others and how they dress, I was big from a young age, I don't want my child to feel like me. I remember crying from a young age as I was bigger than the other kids. My 3 year is already ready tall and is noticing that she is the same size as children older than her

mrscumberbatch Mon 07-Oct-13 19:06:23

Oh wow where do you start?

If you're too thin you're not a 'real woman'.
If you're too fat you're a 'slob'.
Too pale, too orange, too much makeup, not enough makeup...

The list can go on and on. I think there's nothing that can 'fix' body issues per se but it would be good to have a campaign acknowledging that everyone is neurotic about their supposed flaws/characteristics and that it doesn't bloody matter!

Also, I'd love to be able to take my own advice and not bother at all grin

Catmint Mon 07-Oct-13 19:10:16

I feel that there is a mix up between identity/ food/ work.

I rarely get the chance to eat at work because of the pressure to achieve and perform. I don't deny that some of this pressure comes from myself. Consequently when I get home I eat badly and desperately. I also drink too much due to work stress. However my self worth is very bound up with my job. I have put on weight and don't like this, but have never really felt that what I look lime is as important as what I do. For health reasons I would like to get some balance back and value my body a bit more.

Catmint Mon 07-Oct-13 19:14:27

Re my daughter who is 6, she is very body confident because we tell her that she is healthy, strong, energetic, elegant etc. we put a full length mirror in her room because she likes dressing up and dancing, and I want her to be able to enjoy her own reflection. The thought that she will be judged on her appearance forever makes me rage, my aim is that her own opinion will always be the one that means most to her.

muser31 Mon 07-Oct-13 19:25:38

i have had problems with disordered eating for most of my adult life. although i am not ill anymore, and have a good healthy diet with balance, i know i do not eat 'normally' and still have a few hang ups here and there. how can i prevent passing this on to my dd? i have heard of so many dds going on to have eds because their mums have. it would destroy me. i am very careful not to mention weight, fat, thin, anything like that and not to link food with rewards, is there anything else i can do.

also, i was bullied in school because i was too skinny (pre ed) my dd has the same body shape as me - no matter how much she eats she is extremely thin. how can i prevent this becoming an issue for her. i think that because i was 'too' thin naturally and it was an issue for people and they always commented wether positively or negatively, then when i began to develop at puberty i couldn't handle it and an eating disorder developed. how can i prevent my dd going through this?

majjsu Mon 07-Oct-13 20:06:41

I think peer pressure can be hard for the young ones, as they just want to fit in. What advice would you give on handling this?

missorinoco Mon 07-Oct-13 20:27:56

I can watch what i say and how I portray (or seem to portray) my body image, but what about all the external factors that are thrown into the mix?

The Lego Friends, with their skeletal arms and bambi eyes, Bratz.... I can say what I like, but I suspect I will come across as "old" and "not understanding" like my mother did umpteen years ago.

I want my children to have a good self esteem, so I try to bring up their good points including "You are beautiful" to my daughter (and a variation to my son.) But then I start to think they will think it is important that they are beautiful, and define their self worth by their looks. I go round in circles on this one. What do you think?

Mamafratelli Mon 07-Oct-13 22:13:46

I was a chubby child and my mother hated it. She would constantly put me on diets and withold food whilst my brothers were allowed to have what they wanted. I look back at pictures and I was only slightly overweight when the dieting started but gained more weight as I was so hungry I would eat in secret. I am a healthy weight now but no thanks to my upbringing and it has affected my self esteem for life. I try really hard to not make food an issue at all for my dcs and always tell them they are cute, clever and special and try to build their self esteem all the time.

My question is

Can you recommend any really good role models for my dcs either real or in books/ the media who promote confidence. I thought the Olympics and Paralympics had some great role models but would love some other non sporty role models too. Thanks!

HeatherMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 08-Oct-13 10:00:57

The Q&A is now closed. We will be sending a selection of 20 Qs over to Susie and we'll upload her answers on 14 October.

SusieOrbach Tue 22-Oct-13 11:56:31


And my niece who's only 6! Is self conscious of her weight. She says girls at school call her round belly, so she told her teacher who asked the girls to stop and makes sure that the girls go no where near my niece; but she still only eats half of her dinner, etc

This is an increasing and ghastly scenario. As more and more people become obsessed with body image, more people get bullied about the way they look, and it can start them on the path to being preoccupied with it for years.

People bully because they are insecure and it might help her to know that. It is good that she is your niece because you can speak to her and see if there are things at home that are having an impact on her, such as a lot of concern about diet and body shape which are making her feel she should not be eating with her appetite. Perhaps her mother is constantly dieting, or her older siblings, and she is getting the idea that this is a way to live when it is actually important for her growth and development that she eats well.

As to her round belly, children are meant to have round bellies so it is disturbing that the teacher isn’t teaching that in class rather than isolating her. It would be good to talk to the teacher and ask her to do something positive and affirming on body development. As a starter for ten, there are materials for teachers on the Dove Self Esteem Project website that might provide some useful inspiration.

SusieOrbach Tue 22-Oct-13 11:58:36


Hi Susie, I have a son with body image issues, not a daughter,
He has various medical problems which result in him being overweight, and since starting High School he gets bullied quite a lot about this, especially as his ID twin is of "normal" build, and naturally people do tend to compare them alot,
DT1 says he is "fat because of me" (the medical issues were due to problems when he was developing in utetro) and gets very down about his weight, and refuses to eat at school because when he does, even if it is the healthy lunchbox I provide, other horrible children make grunting noises, immitating pigs. Then he comes home and eats whatever he can find from the cupboards/fridge,(I dont get home until an hour after the boys due to my work). The school have tried to help, but it just goes underground for a few weeks, then rears its ugly head again He has attended a "live well" course, and knows about healthy eating, but he eats when he is miserable, then he is miserable because he is overweight, its a vicious circle. Any advice for me to help him?

This is really difficult for him and for you. Of course, if he can’t eat at school he will be ravenous when he gets home and when one is starving it is a protective mechanism for the body to get in as much food as possible in the shortest possible time.

So the first issue is him not being able to eat at school and that really needs to be addressed. Can his twin try to protect him and tell the others to leave off? He really does need to be able to eat during the day. In fact he needs to be able to eat properly when he is hungry and stop when he is full. That may mean he is larger than his brother but that might be the correct size for him.

It seems as though he has a compulsive eating problem now which is compounded by feeling his size is all wrong and that he is eating for emotional reasons rather than for hunger.

You and he might want to look at my little book On Eating to see if it can be helpful. The exercises look simple but they are actually quite challenging and can help him find his own right way to eat with your help.

SusieOrbach Tue 22-Oct-13 12:00:51


We have a DD (8) (who happens to be very svelte, long-legged and has lustrous, long hair) who is already getting many remarks along the lines of "you're going to be a model when you grow up". Much as it's flattering for her, we are not the type of family to encourage our children to follow that type of career trajectory or indeed to consider themselves primarily in terms of their physical appearance. How as a parent can one positively help one's child so manage such compliments whilst at the same time ensuring that they don't become over-obsessed with their looks and see themselves in those terms?

I think laughing about it is a way to handle it. You have no idea what her body shape will be after puberty and neither do your friends. A way to go would be to reply: "yes, maybe you’ll be that, but maybe you’ll be an astronaut, physicist, geographer, writer, etc" - whatever she has a real yen and talent for.

You could also say "well it all depends on what kinds of bodies are considered beautiful – one might have to be very rounded as models and ballerinas were in previous eras" and again add in for her benefit as much as the people who comment: "She’s just as much of a Maths or French etc enthusiast."

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