The importance of role modelling positive body image


Michaela Fox

Natasha Oakley and Lynette Laming.

Natasha Oakley and Lynette Laming. Photo: Steven Chee


Natasha Oakley, 25, swimwear model and entrepreneur.

"My mum is beautiful. She's also driven and inspiring. She was a model in the '70s and '80s and was a Miss Australia but modelling didn't define her.

Mum and I have similar bodies. We're not straight up and down; we have curves. Like most young girls, I went through a period of feeling confused. Mum was very influential in shaping my body image. She never dieted and I grew up on a fairly standard Aussie diet of vegies and meat.


When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I was turned down by every modelling agency as I didn't match the body requirements of the industry. So I started my own company and modelled for my own brand, A Bikini A Day.

In the early days I felt self-conscious about my thighs. I have 'off' days but I don't put myself down about it or compare myself to others. I love food too much to diet. Overall I am health-conscious and I work out. What I have inherited most from Mum is self-acceptance. I embrace my imperfections."

Lynette Laming, 53, principal of Laming Property.

"When I was modelling in the late '70s, the more rounded figure was in. There wasn't today's industry pressure - most models were a healthy size 10 and everyone liked the look of them.

I've never had any body hang-ups as such but there have been times of body adjustments. Four years ago I developed a thyroid problem and my weight, which had always been stable, changed significantly. I went from a size 8 to a size 12. I now dress for a different shape but I still feel confident with my body.

Natasha is relaxed about her body, food, and life. And she's a hard worker, which I think she gets from me.

I am very proud that Natasha is happy within herself and actively promotes the same confidence in other women."



  Photo: Joshua Morris

Victoria Montgomery, 23, office co-ordinator and recovering anorexic.

"I think my attitude towards my body has been partially shaped by my mum. Growing up, she was always trying to lose weight. She would make comments like, 'I feel so fat today.' I looked up to my mum and understood that I needed to replicate her obsessive exercising and eating habits if I wanted to be like her.

I was 16 when I found Mum's calorie-counting book. I read it out of curiosity and have regretted it ever since, because calorie counting was a major factor in my disorder. I suffered from anorexia for five years. Even when I was admitted to hospital, weighing just 43 kilograms, I didn't feel skinny enough.

Mum has been the only person with the courage to openly address my issues with me. She got me help when I didn't want it. She talked to me when I didn't feel like listening. She believed in my recovery, even when I didn't.

I am a size 8 now. I feel I have a healthy body image, though I still have bad days. It's a huge adjustment going from body shaming yourself to accepting and loving yourself. Mum introduced me to the world of exercise and calorie counting but I don't blame her. I've accepted my eating disorder as mine. The main difference now is that I am my own person. I like my reflection in the mirror. I don't need to replicate my mum; I'm happy just being me."

Ingrid Montgomery, 53, counsellor.

"Prior to Victoria's illness, I was not aware how influential my own negative self-talk could be. Looking back, I can see this rubbed off, but I also think Victoria's eating disorder was enhanced by external influences such as anxiety around her final year of school.

Anorexia is a devastating experience; there's no place like it. I couldn't sleep and would sit in her room to check she was breathing. Her illness forced me to look at my own body perceptions, language and behaviours. I'm a size 10 now and my body confidence yo-yos.

I'm not overweight or unattractive, but I am naturally self-critical.

I felt a lot of guilt around Victoria's illness but I have dealt with it and feel we both have healthier body images. My book, Love Her Hate Her, tells the story from my perspective as the carer and Victoria's road to recovery. I do think you have a responsibility as a mother to lead by example. How can you expect your daughters to have a healthy attitude towards their bodies if you don't?"



  Photo: Hilary Walker

Jemma Reynolds, 34, mum and freelance writer.

"I have inherited my mum's body shape and body image. We are both curvy and comfortable with that.

Mum is gorgeous and self-confident despite being a bigger lady. I don't ever remember her being on a diet. She always dressed well and taught us to buy clothes to suit our body types. Mum looks great and still rocks a bikini at 61.

Growing up, food was a big part of our lives and something to embrace. Homemade scones and pikelets were a weekend treat, along with mum's famous chocolate pudding.

I don't love everything about my body, but I've never been on a diet. Mum taught me to make the most of what you've got. I learnt to accentuate my curves, not hide them. It would be nice to have a flatter tummy but I can't be bothered doing 100 sit ups every day.

I exercise, eat well and enjoy life.

Since becoming a mum myself I am even more accepting of my body. I just bought a new bikini for our upcoming trip to Bali, and a few of my friends were shocked that I still wear a bikini. But I am comfortable in my own skin and I want to teach my daughters to feel the same. I don't want them to see me missing out on a good time because I'm worried about how I look. I want to make sandcastles, collect shells and splash about with them."

Felicity Reynolds, 61, works in retail.

"I'm not self-conscious about being overweight, even though I am. It would be nice to be slim, but that's not my natural body type. I am a size 16 and comfortable with that.

I like to buy clothes made by good designers that complement my shape. Having nice clothes makes me feel good; I'm not a 'trackies and moccies' woman.

Jemma has always been happy in her own skin. When my kids were growing up, I involved my girls in the kitchen and we were adventurous with food.

When she was in her early teens, she became a vegetarian. She's very health-conscious and I get told off if I give her kids a lolly. I've never seen kids eat so many cucumbers and tomatoes.

Keeping fit and healthy is important. I do Pilates and cycle everywhere.

I think Jemma looks fantastic because it's how she feels. I hope I had a role in that. So many perceptions and behaviours are cemented when a child is growing up. I've always had a relaxed and healthy approach to food and I think Jemma has inherited that."



  Photo: James Brickwood

Elle Welsman, 25, CrossFit trainer and gym owner.

"Mum and I have totally different body shapes. She is slender and narrow, while I am muscular and curvy. When I lived at home and ate what Mum ate, I ended up sick and overweight. Dinner was often steak and vegies, pasta or rice, and I suffered from digestive issues. I have since cut out gluten and adopted a paleo-variation diet and feel much better for it.

Growing up, I never heard Mum talk about weight. She has a high confidence in her appearance whereas I have struggled. I started to have a few body-image issues when I was 16. I became highly self-critical and unhappy with my body. I hated my bigger muscles and thighs and felt insecure, often binge eating and then feeling guilty.

I was so frustrated trying to reach an unrealistic standard of beauty, but at 21 discovered CrossFit. It was a massive turning point and changed how I perceived my body. Mum saw the changes and we started training together. The first time I gave her a light bar to squat with, she couldn't lift it. She had no strength and I think it surprised her.

I am a size 10, and most of my body weight is muscle. I'm happy with my body and proud of my muscles; I focus more on what my body can do instead of what it looks like."

Monique Welsman, 55, the gym's office manager.

"I don't think women are ever entirely happy with their bodies. I've been slender all my life but have always been conscious of my small bust. I cover my insecurities by outwardly portraying confidence - and with push-up bras.

Elle started to gain weight when she hit puberty. I didn't make it a big deal, but I worried about the health implications. I didn't possess the know-how to help her change the way she felt about her body. CrossFit did that for her and, in turn, she taught me.

I started training with Elle and realised how unfit I was. I had mistaken my weekly tennis hit for a workout. I noticed small improvements in fitness and my abs started to reappear. Once she opened her gym, I trained three times a week. My chicken-wing arms have been replaced by toned muscle and I'm fitter than I've been for 25 years.

I now try to convey to my daughters to take notice of how your body is feeling. It's not important what others perceive to be the right shape or size. Being fit, healthy and strong is more important than being thin."