MIR­ROR IM­AGE

Can moth­ers in­flu­ence daugh­ters on how they see them­selves?

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - INSIDE - LEANNE ED­MI­S­TONE

El­iz­a­beth Ven­zin, 56, is founder of the MindShift Foun­da­tion and mother to Gina, 25, and Daniel, 31. She lives at Hol­land Park in Bris­bane’s south with her part­ner. Gina is sin­gle, runs two Bris­bane cafes and a restau­rant, and lives at east­side Camp Hill.

My (late) mum Mar­garet Gimesy re­ally was beau­ti­ful. She looked like (English ac­tor and au­thor) Dame Joan Collins, but for my (late) fa­ther she was never good enough. She was al­ways crit­i­cised and I was al­ways crit­i­cised. I was 22 when I got mar­ried. It was un­happy.

It’s only re­cently I’ve felt com­fort­able with who I am. When you’ve had (neg­a­tive mes­sages) from your child­hood and your first mar­riage, it’s al­ways in the back of your mind. It is a con­stant bat­tle try­ing to reaf­firm what’s im­por­tant, what values you have, be­ing healthy.

I’m pas­sion­ate, strong-willed, healthy-ish. It’s about bal­ance. It’s not about be­ing skinny or be­ing fat or any of those things. If you want to lose weight, make sure you’re do­ing it for you and not be­cause your fa­ther, or your boyfriend or your part­ner, says you’re too fat.

When Gina was con­sid­er­ing breast aug­men­ta­tion, I blamed my­self. I told Gina how won­der­ful, how gor­geous she was, and then when she said she wanted cos­metic surgery it was like I had been hit by a light­ning strike.

This just goes to show the in­flu­ence of all th­ese (so­ci­etal) mes­sages peo­ple are get­ting about what they need to do to be beau­ti­ful, when some­body like Gina would think she’s not beau­ti­ful enough and be happy to have plas­tic surgery.

We get emails like this at MindShift all the time, and we talk to kids about the hor­ren­dous ef­fects of Face­book, In­sta­gram, and peo­ple com­ment­ing. One young girl tried to com­mit sui­cide be­cause she went to the beach with her friends and was fat-shamed. She’s about a size 12.

Ev­ery­one thinks they have a right to give ev­ery­one else their opin­ion. So­cial me­dia is a whole new ball game, and par­ents need to teach chil­dren how to use it re­spon­si­bly. We have to talk to our kids about what our values are. Peo­ple have lost sight of what’s im­por­tant in life.

Beauty comes from within; I know that’s a cliche. Beauty is some­body I can re­spect, some­body I can trust, be­ing strong, be­ing pas­sion­ate about what­ever they be­lieve in.

Gina: (My body im­age) is healthy at the mo­ment. I’m the most com­fort­able in my skin I’ve ever been. As you get older, you get more con­fi­dent in your­self.

Be­tween ages 16 to 24, I wasn’t happy. I was al­ways skinny, but I didn’t feel skinny. I wanted to get breast im­plants, I wanted to wear makeup to hide.

Grow­ing up, I was read­ing all the gos­sip mag­a­zines with all the celebri­ties and those beau­ti­ful im­ages, and now with Face­book and In­sta­gram. It’s all been fil­tered and Pho­to­shopped. It’s the de­sire to look per­fect when that per­fect look is not even close to what peo­ple nat­u­rally look like. I try to log off (from so­cial me­dia) more th­ese days.

The light-bulb mo­ment came when I wanted to get my breasts aug­mented. I was booked in twice, paid two de­posits, had the best sur­geon. But Mum didn’t want me to get them. She was go­ing through so much anx­i­ety and I thought, I couldn’t be so self­ish. Did I ac­tu­ally need this?

Beauty comes from in­side, car­ing for other peo­ple, be­ing kind. Even now I tell my friends when they see a hot guy, that hot­ness lasts a sec­ond un­til you start talk­ing to him, and if he’s not nice, then he’s not hot any more. Or that

girl’s beau­ti­ful but then you might talk with her, find out she’s a bitch, and she’s not beau­ti­ful any more.

Con­fi­dence is be­ing happy in your­self. Wak­ing up in the morn­ing and be­ing happy in your own skin, and not feel­ing like you need to prove any­thing to any­one. If you’re not go­ing to love me for the way I am, you don’t need to be part of my life.

Dr He­len Vid­gen, 45, di­eti­tian and se­nior re­search fel­low with Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy’s PEACH healthy life­style pro­gram, lives in Mans­field, in Bris­bane’s south, with hus­band Pat, 46, their daugh­ters Gabriella, 15, and Amelie, 13, and dog Monte.

The girls and I talked about this, and we don’t think about body im­age very much. For 20 years I’ve been talk­ing to peo­ple about obe­sity and body weight, with the fo­cus al­ways on the health out­comes, on healthy eat­ing and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, and what your body looks like as a con­se­quence, as op­posed to the fo­cus.

With the girls and with my own body, it’s the same – though keep­ing a bal­ance of those things is re­ally hard, es­pe­cially when life gets busier.

Would we feel com­fort­able if you said to­day you wanted us all to have a photo taken in our un­der­wear? Prob­a­bly not. We all think about how we like to present our­selves, what suits us, what suits our body type, what suits our colour­ing, what type of im­age we want to give to the world. That’s prob­a­bly more about your sense of self, rather than try­ing to look like some­one else.

I’ve got a pos­i­tive body im­age. I would de­scribe my­self as healthy and em­pow­ered. The rea­son I use the word “em­pow­ered” is be­cause some rep­re­sen­ta­tions of women (in me­dia) don’t par­tic­u­larly show an em­pow­ered woman.

It’s an on­go­ing di­a­logue we have in our fam­ily be­cause there are of­ten in­ci­dents that come up (for ex­am­ple, on so­cial me­dia). When your body is chang­ing, and ado­les­cence is al­ways a pretty awk­ward stage, you’re more vul­ner­a­ble to think­ing you need to be more per­fect than you are.

If there’s a mes­sage as a nu­tri­tion pro­fes­sional, it is that you can be healthy at any size. Be­ing over­weight and obese are def­i­nitely high risks of dis­ease, but the fo­cus is on what you’re eat­ing and how ac­tive you are, whether you’re smok­ing, drink­ing, tak­ing drugs, all that kind of stuff – the rest will fol­low.

Your body is func­tional be­fore it is dec­o­ra­tive. That re­ally kicked in when I was in labour and breast­feed­ing. You’re ab­so­lutely func­tional. There’s noth­ing dec­o­ra­tive. And maybe this hap­pens, too, when you have your first heart at­tack or are di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes.

Amelie, 13: I’m in grade seven. I like maths, sci­ence and HPE (health and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion). I’ve been think­ing about be­com­ing a phys­io­ther­a­pist, but I’m not re­ally sure yet what I’ll do.

I quite en­joy sport, so I play net­ball, touch foot­ball and I of­ten do cross-coun­try run­ning, things like that at school. The main ex­er­cise I do reg­u­larly is walk­ing Monte.

Body im­age is the way you think of the way you look, the way you present your­self. My body im­age is fine. No one’s per­fect, so I’m happy with mine. I’m healthy, ac­tive.

(My friends and I) don’t re­ally feel any pres­sure to look a cer­tain way. I’d rather be the per­son you’d think of as a po­lite per­son than some­one who dresses re­ally stylish.

If some­one is de­scribed as beau­ti­ful, I think more about their per­son­al­ity, like they’re a kind, car­ing per­son. That would be my first in­stinct, not the way they look.

I do have In­sta­gram. Re­cently I posted a photo of our net­ball team; I did a touch team one, and I’ll some­times post when we’re at a funky cafe, drink­ing some­thing out of a jar. There are never pho­tos just of me (self­ies).

The celebri­ties I ad­mire are more for things they’ve done, so it’s (Queens­land Fire­birds net­ball cap­tain) Laura Geitz and (Amer­i­can mu­si­cian) Tay­lor Swift.

Gabriella, 15: I’m in grade nine. I think I’d like to do some­thing with en­gi­neer­ing, but I don’t re­ally have a good idea at the mo­ment. I do a bit of every­thing – bal­let, net­ball and de­bat­ing. I don’t think about body im­age that much, but I guess mine is pos­i­tive, healthy. It’s start­ing to come up more of­ten now I’m older.

Maybe like clothes and stuff, what looks good. Me and my friends of­ten plan ahead what we’re go­ing to wear.

Ni­cole Brown, 21, is a model with Vivien’s Mod­els and a qual­i­fied per­sonal trainer. An only child, she lives with mum Wendy, 54, an in­ten­sive-care unit nurse at Red­cliffe Hos­pi­tal, and dad Terry, 57, a diesel me­chanic, at Narangba, also north of Bris­bane.

I’m a string bean, just up and down. When peo­ple call me “skinny” I au­to­mat­i­cally think I’m skin and bones; that one word can take my con­fi­dence in a blink of an eye.

It takes a re­ally long time to ac­cept this is how my body struc­ture is. I al­ways looked at other girls grow­ing up, think­ing I want to look like that, I want to have a big­ger bust size and I want to have th­ese curves that ev­ery­one talks about, but at the end of the day that’s not re­al­is­tic.

I en­joy work­ing out and I en­joy food. I’m a big foodie. I try to cook, but I like just go­ing out and try­ing new things.

I tried mod­el­ling be­cause ev­ery­one was say­ing I would be good at it. I de­cided I would go into an agency, ask the ques­tion. Next thing you know I’m sign­ing a con­tract and fall­ing in love with mod­el­ling! ( laughs).

I get to meet a lot of dif­fer­ent and cre­ative peo­ple you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily meet every day. I love that it is its own lit­tle com­mu­nity, and we all come to­gether to build each other up. I’m never com­pared to an­other model on the board. It’s me, I’m Ni­cole, I’m my own brand and I’m my own per­son.

(Body con­fi­dence is) just some­thing you re­ally have to work on, and it’s some­thing that comes with age. Beauty is be­ing gen­uine. In­ner beauty is more beau­ti­ful than some­one who can look good with­out makeup, or who looks good in makeup and a re­ally nice dress.

You can be the pret­ti­est per­son on the out­side but re­ally kind of ugly and mean on the in­side, and then that 180s every­thing that peo­ple think about you.

Wendy: I grew up in Liver­pool (an outer western sub­urb of Syd­ney, NSW), the el­dest of three girls. I can’t re­mem­ber that we even con­sid­ered (body im­age). We were who we were and that was it. I don’t think there was that same em­pha­sis on be­ing some­thing that you weren’t.

My mum al­ways looked nice – you didn’t leave the house un­less your hair was good, and you al­ways had a can of hair­spray and a hair brush in your hand­bag. She made you feel like you were this amaz­ing per­son, one who could do any­thing. Es­pe­cially her girls – her daugh­ters and grand­daugh­ters.

At the mo­ment my body im­age is not good, be­cause I know I’m over­weight. I quit smok­ing two years ago, af­ter 20-odd years. I feel bet­ter, health­ier, but it’s just that I’ve taken one ad­dic­tion and re­placed it with an­other. And I’m ba­si­cally lazy ( laughs).

You get to a stage and think, this is how I am. Yes, I can prob­a­bly do a bit more, and I will try to do that, but hell, this is me. It’s not that I don’t care, I’m just a lit­tle more ac­cept­ing as I age.

When Nic was 15 she got re­ally quite sick – she had fluid around her heart and de­vel­oped a heart mur­mur – and she lost a hell of a lot of weight. That has ac­tu­ally helped her, as far as the way she looks at her­self, be­cause she has seen her­self ex­tremely thin. That re­ally showed her that the way she looks now, that is a healthy-look­ing body.

When she was get­ting bet­ter, we’d walk to the shops and back, be­cause that was a form of ex­er­cise she could do. There were some kids she went to school with who said she was anorexic, that’s why she wasn’t at school, and I know that played on her mind.

Nic’s come through a hell of a lot and I think she’s been spat out the other side quite well.

Other peo­ple were con­cerned when she started mod­el­ling but I re­ally wasn’t that per­turbed. When she started, Ni­cole was this speak-only-when-spo­ken-to lit­tle thing who didn’t have a voice and didn’t have an opin­ion.

Now Ni­cole has an opin­ion. She will tell you what that opin­ion is at every op­por­tu­nity, and she’s just got so much con­fi­dence it’s not funny.

She floors me some­times, ab­so­lutely floors me.

Th­ese Bris­bane girls/young women and their moth­ers are learn­ing to live with their body shapes. Pic­tures ( clock­wise from op­po­site page): Tim Mars­den, Richard Waugh, David Kelly

Su­danese Mus­lim com­mu­nity devel­op­ment worker Faiza ElHigzi, 50, lives at Sun­ny­bank Hills, in Bris­bane’s south, with hus­band Mid­hat Ab­del-Magied, a mi­gra­tion agent, and son Yasseen, 21, who is study­ing avi­a­tion me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing. The fam­ily came to Aus­tralia from Su­dan when daugh­ter Yass­min Ab­del-Magied, now a 24-year-old en­gi­neer on off­shore oil rigs and 2015 Queens­land Young Aus­tralian of the Year, was two.

When we were young (in Su­dan) the ideal body im­age was about be­ing full and curved, for a woman, be­cause that re­flected your so­cial and eco­nomic sta­tus. In a de­vel­op­ing coun­try if you don’t have money you’re scrawny and mal­nour­ished. If you’re full and fat – if I can use that term – then you’re wealthy, you’re eco­nom­i­cally se­cure.

Now, women of my gen­er­a­tion are more con­scious of their weight and we don’t see that ob­ses­sion of women want­ing to put on weight. As Mus­lim women wear­ing the hi­jab, we don’t wear a swim­ming suit to the beach, so re­ally we don’t have to worry about hav­ing a tummy or back­side.

The mother-and-daugh­ter con­ver­sa­tions (with my mum, Sayda Eljindi, and in turn with Yass­min) were more about how you dress, how you present your­self and how you con­duct your­self in so­ci­ety; that was more im­por­tant than what weight you are or how does your body look.

Yass­min: (How I see my body) is rel­a­tively pos­i­tive. I started go­ing to the gym and lift­ing weights when I was 12. I’ve al­ways been some­one who’s very proud of the fact they can han­dle them­selves. That is not con­sid­ered fem­i­nine in Su­dan. For me it’s un­der­stand­ing that what so­ci­ety tells me doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to be right. It’s ac­cept­ing the fact I don’t fit the so­cial norms, but I look at that as an op­por­tu­nity as op­posed to some­thing that makes me feel less con­fi­dent.

There’s that level of in­ter­nal di­a­logue about, as a self-aware, well-ed­u­cated woman, how much it is OK to care about my body, be­cause on one hand you don’t want to be the per­son that’s wrapped up in their phys­i­cal­ity but at the same time you don’t nec­es­sar­ily want to “let your­self go”, either. Is it just a case that if you’re feel­ing fit and com­fort­able, that’s fine?

(Work­ing in a male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try) has ac­tu­ally been the best thing ever for my body im­age ( laughs). In a re­ally warped way, it just made me su­per com­fort­able with who I was. It doesn’t mat­ter to th­ese guys what I look like, so why should it mat­ter to me?

(On the rigs) I never wear makeup, all you have is a 20cm by 20cm mir­ror, so you for­get what you look like. The only gauge of your size is how your clothes fit, and you’re wear­ing over­alls so they’re su­per-loose any­way. You just don’t think about your body, so in a way that’s been part of me learn­ing to em­brace who I am as a woman.

NI­COLE & WENDY

GINA & EL­IZ­A­BETH

GABRIELLA, HE­LEN & AMELIE

FAIZA & YASS­MIN Faiza El-Higzi ( left) and daugh­ter Yass­min Ab­del-Magied. Pic­ture: An­nette Dew

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