Children and Body Image: 6 Tips to Help Your Child Cope with “Feeling Fat” in a Thin is In World

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Fitting In While Standing Out
Volume 1: 6 Tips to Help your Child Cope with Feeling Fat in a “Thin is In” World

By: Dr. Robyn Silverman

originally printed as one of Dr. Robyn’s monthly columns

in Bay State Parent Magazine

You probably wouldn’t believe it if you had heard it yourself. MaryBeth, a mother of three, came to me in a panic. Her daughter, Madeline, who had recently turned six years old, had been standing outside by the pool with her 2 friends, Hallie and Rachel, when the snubbing began. Marybeth witnessed Madeline’s 2 friends slapping their bellies and whispering to each other. Hallie spoke first. “You can’t be our friend anymore, Maddie, ‘cause you’re 55 pounds and we’re only 45 and 47 ½ pounds.” Rachel continued, “Yeah, 6 year olds like us shouldn’t weigh more than 50 pounds. If you are, it means your fat… and fat people are ugly.” At that, Madeline ran to her Mom, and whimpered, “Mommy, am I fat and ugly?” while the other girls jumped into the pool.

As a body image and child development specialist, I believe I have heard it all. Too fat. Too short. Too flat. Too big. Too scrawny. These stories, while plentiful, are never easy to hear.

We used to think that “fitting in” had mostly to do with how your personality meshes with your friends. But in today’s world, when everywhere from Hollywood to New York is preaching extreme thinness, “fitting in” seems to have more to do with how you appear on the outside rather than who you are the inside. And, unfortunately, those parents who thought that they didn’t have to worry about body image issues until their children became teens are being sideswiped in the head by a large dose of reality.

No child should ever feel that s/he is “worth less” because of how s/he looks. When it comes to society’s messages that “thin is in” and “fat is faulty” what can we do to help our children remember that it’s what’s inside that counts?

(1) Show children that everyone comes in different sizes: Let them know that on the normal bell curve for weight, children fall in all different places. Some are lighter and some are heavier. It’s normal for children to gain weight at different rates and at different times during their childhood. Some shoot up like weeks and then gain weight while others gain weight and then grow taller. What’s important is that each child is healthy and active NOT that each child is at the average weight for his or her age group. Of course, if you’re concerned about your child’s weight or weight progression, contact your pediatrician for advice.

(2) Don’t compare: Even within families, siblings will put on weight at different times and at different rates. Pointing out that one of your children is putting weight on faster or is heavier than another sibling, can be interpreted as a criticism that s/he is not fitting in to what is “normal.” Given societal messages regarding dieting and thinness, especially those delivered to young girls, it’s easy for children to interpret seemingly innocuous comparative comments as judgments of a child’s worth.

(3) Watch the media that comes into your house: A lot of magazines and TV shows hail thin frames and denigrate bodies that are not thin enough according to Hollywood standards. When someone once said, “a picture’s worth a thousand words” they were right. Research shows that media has a large impact on the way children feel about themselves and how they judge others. If you see something that celebrates very thin figures or denigrates those who are not thin, talk about it and ask your children what they’re take is on the subject. TV shows and books that confirm that people come in all shapes and sizes, can also be extremely helpful. (I use a self-published book for my own presentations on this topic. If interested, please contact me directly through http://www.DrRobynSilverman.com or http://www.DrRobynsBlog.com)

(4) Be aware of your language and behaviors: If you’re hyper-focused on weight and looks, your child will pick up on it. As they say, “monkey see, monkey do.” You are your children’s role model and superhero. They want to be just like you and they want you to be proud of them. So when a parent looks in the mirror and says “yuck,” their children may wonder if you think the same thing about them. Young people follow your lead so be sure to show them what a healthy body image (not just a healthy lifestyle) looks like.

(5) Expose them to different activities and people: When children have the opportunity to meet different kinds of people and do different activities, they learn about and develop strengths. Other people show them that children can be good at all different things and how someone looks does not determine their worth or their abilities. A wide array of activities like team sports, martial arts, hip-hop dance and drama can help children develop confidence in what they can do and who they can be without hyper-focusing on weight and appearance.

(6) Stress your values: Raising your children to determine their true friends by who they are and not by how they look, is helpful in several ways. First, they’ll attract people who think similarly. Second, they will be more apt to judge themselves by the strength of their values rather than how thin they are. And third, they will be less apt to surround themselves with people who base friendship on appearance.

But most of all, be patient and supportive. Be prepared for your children to change shape and size often during childhood. Growing up and out can be confusing and even anxiety-provoking for children who are trying to “fit in.” Helping all young people feel worthwhile, valued and capable no matter what weight they are at, is vital to the development of positive body image and self esteem.

Look for Volume 2 of Dr. Robyn’s article series “Fitting in When Standing out” when she covers Tips to Help your Child Cope with Feeling Short in a “Tall is All” world.

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman is a Massachusetts-based child and adolescent development specialist whose programs and services are used worldwide. She is also a success coach for parents, adolescents, and educators, who are looking to achieve their goals, improve their lives or improve the lives of others. She is a writer and professional speaker who presents to PTAs, schools, parents, and organizations that focus on children or families. Interested in doing some coaching with Dr. Robyn or having Dr. Robyn present a seminar at your child’s school or at your business? Go to www.DrRobynsBlog.com for more information.

Spring Cleaning on your Body Image

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Since February is Love your Body month, it’s time to take inventory on how you’re doing in this department. No, no, not how you’re doing in the weight department– but rather, in the “loving your body” department.

The Curvy Life put out an assessment to put you to the test.

Curvy Angela writes:

The first step in decluttering body image is to uncover the mental and physical clutter we have around our bodies.  The following is a 10-point assessment to reveal areas in your life where you might be holding on to body image clutter:

  1. Do you spend thinking and/or worrying about your body, food, and exercise? How much time?
  2. Do you have nagging, negative feelings around the way you look?

Get the whole test here!
Have a powerful day!

Dr. Robyn

What do obesity and Bin Laden have in common?

Run! Run for your lives!

An article came out today out of Sydney on yahoo news saying we’re focusing too much on terrorism and not enough on obesity.

Here’s a quote:

Global terrorism was a real threat but posed far less risk than obesity, diabetes and smoking-related illnesses, prominent US professor of health law Lawrence Gostin said at the Oxford Health Alliance Summit here.

“Ever since September 11, we’ve been lurching from one crisis to the next, which has really frightened the public,” Gostin told AFP later.

“While we’ve been focusing so much attention on that, we’ve had this silent epidemic of obesity that’s killing millions of people around the world, and we’re devoting very little attention to it and a negligible amount of money.”

Do we really need young girls worried about ranking up there with Bin Laden when they put on weight?

Stepford Children: Retouching your child’s flaws away

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Say ‘Cheese!’ And Now Say ‘Airbrush!

More photo studios are offering to retouch your child’s flaws away. But is digital perfection good for a kid’s self-image? Newsweek has the whole article on retouching your child’s flaws away. What is it saying to our children?Here’s a quote:”It surprises me so much when a mom comes in and asks for retouching on a second-grader,” says Danielle Stephens, a production manager for Prestige Portraits, which has studios in nearly every state and starts its service at $6. “I have a 12-year-old, and I’d be afraid that if I asked for retouching she’d think she wasn’t good enough.”

“People want their kids to look perfect rather than teach them to appreciate their flaws.”

Want to weigh in on the issue? Are these “flaws” really just things that make us human? We are not supposed to look like a 2 dementional magazine cover, are we?

How to Look Good Naked

Looks like we’re making progress! But does it take a man to help women feel good about themselves?

Lifetime has adapted a hit show from over the pond– “How to Look Good Naked” and put it on for a body conscious American audience. The show is a combination of a traditional clothing/make-up/hair makeover and a body esteem makeover as well. Hosted by one of the “Fab 5” from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Carson Kressley, it debuted on Friday, January 4th. The show demonstrates that wmen still need to be reminded that they’re beautiful even if they don’t look like one of Tyra’s aspiring top models. Bring tissues.

Carson Kressley is talking about women’s body image on Oprah.

The Fat-o-sphere out in full bloom

There’s been a lot of information about the “fat-o-sphere” which has been highlighted in the New York Times and well as as morning shows such as Mark and Juliet. Now it is the topic of the RedEye (Chicago Tribune) today.

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Here are some highlights:

“Welcome to the so-called fat-osphere, a growing online niche where bloggers and others tired of counting calories share stories and try to become comfortable in their own skin, instead of obsessing about their weight.”

(While I love that people are coming together to discuss these issues, I believe that calling it the “fatosphere” is only shoving people into a corner again. We don’t want to put people in the back of the bus, we want everyone to feel worthwhile no matter what their size. Is it only one segment of society that feels people of all weights are worthy? Let’s talk about it– not segment it to the “fatosphere.”

“Human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Fat people are human beings.”

(This is a quote from Kate Harding of Shapely Prose, a body positive blog that I frequent. She’s the fabulous woman featured on the cover of the RedEye, above.)

While we are working hard to help people feel good about themselves and not wrap up their self worth with their weight, we still have a way to go.

“it’s an uphill battle given the national fight against obesity: Just last month, a Mississippi state lawmaker proposed a bill to stop restaurants from serving obese people.”

We all want people to make healthy choices. That is not in question. But can you imagine being scrutinized each time you walk into a restaurant and asked your weight or BMI? Will we need to carry a proof of BMI ID card now as well as a license? Scary.

And how will this affect our young girls? Just one more reason for them to wonder if they’ll be able to fit in…

Study suggests that positive body image predicts health

The medical community has been linking Body Mass Index (BMI) to health for quite some time. However, a new study out of Columbia University provides a different answer: Body Image. In particular, those who want to lose weight are more likely to be mentally or physically unhealthy than those who are happy with their body image. Being discontented with your body weight was more of a predictor of being unhealthy than BMI.

So what we’ve been saying on Kiss My Assets is true– We need to focus more on being happy with our body today if we want to be healthy for tomorrow! Read more about it on Psych Central!