7 Ways to Raise a Sizeist Child

7 Ways to Raise a Sizeist Child

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

We’ve all heard it before. Media is riddled with it. Janice Dickinson scoffs at it. Tyra Banks yells about it. Keira Knightly and Kate Winslet are sick of media’s hand in it. It’s sizeism.

We see it when people stop and stare.  Point.  Laugh and say; “He’s sooooo fat.” “She looks gross.” “She’s way too short!” “Have you seen her thighs?  Her muffin top? Her butt?” Prejudice comes in all forms. Sizeism is just as ugly at the rest of them…and just as transferable.

Think about the people in your life. The folks at work. School. Your home. Do you know anyone with a sizeist attitude? Any idea where it came from? We can’t only point the finger at the media. It’s time to take responsibility for our own actions and reactions as well.

Here are 7 ways that you can teach a child how to be a sizeist citizen of our already sizeist culture:

(1) Your physical reactions out you: Even babies and little children can feel the difference when a parent holds them closer around a person that makes them squeamish. Imagine that every time a parent is approached by a fat woman or man, s/he is rude, belittling or snooty but every time a parent is approached by a thin person s/he is positive, kind, and relaxed. You might think that a child won’t pick up on your body language—but next to you, your child can likely sense body changes in you fastest and easiest. The message is clear; “Fat people make my parents feel uncomfortable, therefore they must be bad.”

(2) Your choice of words outs you: Everything that you say when you are around your children is likely heard—even if you don’t think it is. That means that what you shout at the TV, the comments you make when leafing through a magazine, or what you whisper to a friend at lunch when a fat person walks by may just be embedded in a young child’s lexicon forever. I’ve heard it in my parent coaching groups—a child will repeat what you’ve said in the most inopportune times. One client shared with the group last week that her 4 year old son walked into Walmart and sound loud enough for at least 25 people to hear “Woah! You’re right, Mom. Everyone IS fat in here!”

(3) Your reactions towards them outs you: When your children say something rude, sizeist or snobbish, the way you react is worth a lot more than words can say. For example, a parent came to me and described the following: In her 5 year old daughter’s dance class a few weeks back, one of the other girls was demonstrating a skill when another little girls said; “fat people shouldn’t dance. They look like rollie pollies!” The teacher couldn’t help but laugh. Laughter in this type of situation is not only completely inappropriate, it only reinforces these statements and adds fuel to the fire.

(4) Your choices out you: This one may be subtle but it happens all the time. If you choose to allow certain children to do things due to their body shape and size while restricting others from doing the same things, you are brewing up stereotyping and sizeism. So, for example, one of my girls from my preteen coaching group, Sassy Sisterhood, said in group, “Whenever we need to move the chairs and desks around in class, my teacher only picks the boys. She says they’re bigger and stronger than the girls.” I’ve also seen it when teachers evenly separate the fatter boys or girls on gym teams in school. I’ve heard a teacher say that she does this so that everyone has the same amount of “dead weight.” Choices such as these, however subtle, speak volumes.

(5) The way you take responsibility outs you: Upon hearing children say sizeist remarks, you can either pretend you don’t hear it or choose to take responsibility or not. Denial is certainly a strong reaction. Many people believe that children can’t understand what’s really being said or done. However, even if they don’t process it in the same way as adults, they do indeed process it. Shrugging off responsibility for sizeism (or any other kind of prejudice) is not helpful. Yes, they might not have gotten it from you—but it still remains your responsibility—all of our responsibility– to teach them the right way to react to others, isn’t it?

(6) The way you accept yourself outs you: Do you look in the mirror and bash your “fat butt” [fat=bad] or swear at your “skinny” jeans that don’t fit anymore? Do you joke with your family over the holiday table about needing to lipo your “huge gut?” You are your children’s role models. Your children hear this—they see it—and they process it. When we don’t accept what makes us who we are, how can we expect our children to accept themselves? In this case, parents are teaching children to reject these features in themselves as well as in others.

(7) Who you surround them with outs you: You likely heard the advice “surround yourself with positive people.” When it comes to our children, they tend to absorb what they see and hair from those who are around them most of the time—it’s part of positive assimilation with a group. Therefore, when you surround your children with people who make statements laced with sizeism or act or react with prejudice motives, your children have a great chance of adopting similar prejudices. One girl, age 13, told me that her Mom’s best friend (recently single) always put down her “big thighs.” Now she couldn’t stop looking at her own—and comparing them with those of her friends’. She actually said to me, “Fat thighs means No Guys.” Where do you think she heard that one before?

As educators, parents, coaches, and mentors, it’s crucial that we admit when there’s a problem—and there is– and then work to take responsibility to deal with the pertinent issues. Watch your actions, your reactions, and your words. We need to stop generalizing based on appearance (or any other trait) because it takes away our ability to get to know people’s unique gifts on an individual basis. It causes our children to be narrow-minded. It causes children to hate—not only others—but parts of themselves as well.

Please comment below. Do you know anyone who has raised a sizeist child? How do you think they got that way? What warnings or tips do you have for parents?


Janice Dickinson Doesn’t “Do Fat”

Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency: I Don’t “Do Fat”

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

While we are still unsure how much people listen when celebrities say dumb things, when it comes to weight and size, many ears tend to perk up. This week on “The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency” (Oxygen Network), the former supermodel, actress, agent and author scoffed plus-size models when she said she doesn’t “do fat” in her own snobbish, turned-up-nose way. We know. People think a woman as small as a size 4 is too fat for Hollywood.

People are clearly upset. Girls have to do so much to fit into today’s narrow definition of beauty. Given the pervasiveness of Anorexia and Bulimia, the media onslaught of withering bodies —and not to mention—the overall poor body image of girls and women, such statements belittle anyone who doesn’t fit the thin ideal.

“I am absolutely outraged! Janice Dickinson’s treatment of not only plus-size models, but all female models who aren’t a size “0”, is unacceptable. She is setting a horrible example for young girls, and is mean-spirited in a sad attempt to gain ratings.” Chenese Lewis, Hollywood NOW Love Your Body Chairperson, former Miss Plus America, plus-size fashion model & actress.

As a body image expert and success coach, it’s challenging to fight against the media storm and endless barrage of celebrities who are poster children for eating disorders. However, we get up and do it everyday. Janice Dickinson has a right to represent whomever she’d like—but by belittling plus size models in such a public way, she is also teaching girls to reject “fat.” This is frightening since this simply gives pubescent girls more reason to reject their own developing bodies.

She is not healthy for women to watch, for kids who need to learn self-acceptance, for

parents who are hoping to teach their kids about loving their body.” — Zoe Ann Nicholson, chapter president, The Hollywood Chapter, The National Organization for Women (NOW)

The National Organization for Women (NOW),  the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States, is working to educate people about important issues facing all women today—including healthy body image. Chenese Lewis, who has taken part in my research studies on women and body image, and who has been a great support to my work, has been an amazing resource as the Hollywood NOW Love Your Body Chairperson.

NOW is publicly rejecting the statements made by Dickinson—what do YOU think about what she said? Justified? Stupid? Doesn’t Matter? Please comment below.

Photo credit

Trick or…Health Food? Is Fear of Fat Stealing Halloween from Kids?

Halloween– Are People Making it A Big Fat Deal?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Yay! Halloween! Candy! Chocolate bars! Healthy Food?

Randi (my best friend), and I used to love getting dressed up for Halloween and collecting a large stash from all the neighbors. Mrs. Garvel (who lived next door) always had the biggest and best candy bars. Huge Hershey Bars. Colossal Kit Kats. Gigantic Swirly Lollipops. Yummy! Of course, we always had the one “strange” neighbor who gave out raisins. Seriously folks, what kid wants raisins for Halloween?

Well, I guess the word is out. People are trying to find alternatives for Halloween Candy– mainly due to the  “obesity” and “overweight” issues and fears in America. People are attempting to make deals with their kids over the amount of candy they can eat and what toys might be acceptable substitutes for the old sugary pastimes on this all-access holiday.

It wasn’t the gruesome costumes or gory masks turning up at Lisa Bruno’s front door that spooked her on Halloween. It was the pudge lurking beneath the costumes. “The kids were just so huge,” Bruno says.

Be careful folks. We don’t want children to think treat=fat=Bad! Bad! Bad! Let’s not add to the body image scare that’s already permeating our country!

The weight controversy aside, we all know it’s not really healthy for kids to sit in their room with a plastic pumpkin full of sweets—or worse yet, an overflowing pillow case like Randi and I used to use for maximum storage capabilities. It’s not great for the teeth, the belly, the skin, or the brain! But do we need to exchange them with dental floss and raisins?

If you are concerned about too much candy on and around Halloween,  here are some of the suggestions for dealing with the sugar overload:

(1) Refrain from saying “No” to all candy: When candy is the forbidden fruit, kids will try to pluck it from any source they can find. Unless your children have extreme dietary restrictions due to health, and absolute “no” can backfire.

(2) Provide limits on how much is consumed: Allow your children a certain amount of the treasured stash each day or allow them to pick 10 pieces of candy and give the rest away to charity, the local police, or another location. This is a great time to talk to your children about portion sizes.

(3) Use the “Sugar Fairy:” The fantastical creature is also known as “The Switch Witch.” Ask your children to switch whatever amount of candy they want for a toy. A little candy leads to a little toy. A lot of their candy leads to a big toy. In the middle of the night, “The Sugar Fairy” or “The Switch Witch” flies in, takes the candy they’ve laid out, and replaces it with a toy commensurate with the amount of candy donated. Some children will be more apt to do this than others but it’s definitely worth a good try if you’re concerned about too much sugar.

(4) Buy back the candy: You can do this with actual money, books, or even time doing something special with Mom or Dad. For example, a piece of candy can be worth 5 cents, 20 pieces of candy could be worth one book, or 50 pieces of candy could be worth a special outing to dinner and the ice cream shop with Dad. Ice cream might seem counter productive—but many parents would you rather their children to have 1 ice-cream sundae over 50 pieces of candy.

(5) Provide yummy or cool alternatives: Those of you who really don’t want to give candy on Halloween need to be really creative here. No kid really wants cheese sticks, raisins, and juice boxes for Halloween. They get that stuff everyday! Come on. I mean, who are these people giving out dental floss and tooth brushes when the children ring their bells? However, for young children, you can find some neat things.  Magic wands, temporary tattoos, stuffed animals, match book cars, balloons, and cool stickers can work. Even gift certificates for a slice of pizza, a sundae, or a doughnut could be a good alternative since parents can allow the children to use once Halloween is just a memory. Some other alternatives are here, here, and here.

(6) Don’t make fat such a big fat deal: One night of eating candy isn’t a travesty. It takes much more than that to consider a life style unhealthy! We don’t want to make children worry about body image simply because they’re eating candy on Halloween. We all like to indulge every once in a while and Halloween is fun and yummy! It’s not healthy or good for one’s belly to stuff themselves with too many candy bars but teaching children that they can eat a treat and enjoy it once in a while is important AND healthy.

“It’s important that we as parents help them find the balance between that very traditional fun activity and a healthy lifestyle. The government’s food pyramid allows about 10 percent of the day’s calories for most kids to come from extras, which includes candy. That’s going to allow every child to have some candy on a daily basis, and it really is OK.” (Connie Diekman, past president of the American Dietetic Association)

Remember what it was like participating in Halloween when you were little. Teach your children well but don’t suck the fun out of Halloween. And please, keep your raisins and dental floss to yourself.

You have any good ideas about candy and Halloween? Do you agree about providing alternatives or do you think kids should be able to live and let live during the weeks around Halloween? Are people making it too big of a big fat deal? Please share your suggestions as well as your opinions. We can all learn something from each other!