Are all girls really created equal and are thin girls just superior beings?


I’ve been thinking about this question as I’ve been writing my book on girls and body image.  I know it’s an ugly question– showing an ugly side of human nature. But the more girls who write to me about how they view themselves and others in their schools, the more I wonder if this question underlines and undermines how girls see themselves and others at school.

Does thinness make some girls automatically superior in school? Does any deviation from that thinness put girls at risk for being seen as inferior? Does this way of thinking carry on as we become adults?

Studies repeatedly show that girls who are seen as overweight, fat, bigger than average, or even just bigger than the “thin” girls must deal with discrimination, teasing, ostracization, and relational bullying.  They must deal with weight discrimination from peers and from teachers.

My belief is that the more girls are around other girls and teachers who have anti-fat beliefs, the stronger those beliefs become.  They become part of the “thin” group and reject anything or anyone that associates them with any “fat” group.  That means rejecting other girls but it also mean rejecting parts of themselves.  You wonder why there is an increase of eating disorders, dieting, purging, and over-exercising in middle and high school? Hmmm.  Your take?

I would love it if you could comment on this issue and/or tell your story for the book.  Please contact me through my story-collection website or let me know you’re interested in joining the facebook group “My body image story” by writing me a note on facebook.

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Why is being called “plus-sized” so offensive???

Why is being called “plus-sized” so offensive?

So here’s my issue with the whole Meghan McCain “Body Bullying” issue. Yes, “conservative” radio host Laura Ingraham was in the wrong when she mocked Senator McCain’s daughter about her weight. Yes, very high school. As we all know, that’s most women’s hot button. But why is being called “plus-sized” so offensive?

Yes, Meghan McCain is only a size 8. But what if she wasn’t? What is she was *gasp* PLUS-SIZED! I mean, is that really an insult? Perhaps because so many studies equate being plus-sized with being *gasp* FAT and being FAT with being lazy, blameworthy, ugly, stupid, and slovenly?

I find the entire exchange strange. If being “plus-sized” is an insult, then over half of the women in America must be offended every time they shop for plus-sized clothes or look at plus-sized models like the beautiful Emme or Mia Tyler.

I think we all need to get a grip. While Laura Ingraham should have kept her yap closed with regard to this issue, I wish Meghan McCain said “So, what?” to the insult or “Is that all ya got?” Or better yet, “there are many beautiful girls and women in this country who are plus-sized and perhaps it’s time that they are recognized for the talented, unique, amazing women that they are. Instead of insulting them, which perpetuates a myth that plus-sized girls and women are ‘less than,’ perhaps it’s time to take a better look. Open your heart and your mind or shut your yap.”

The fact that we’re arguing that being “plus-sized” is an insult at all is actually a big part of the problem.

That’s what I’ve got to say about that.

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Dora Makeover another Blow to Girl’s Body Image?

dora the explorersil_dora_newdora the explorer as a tween

Dora too Modelesque to Be a Girl’s Role Model?

Dr. Robyn Silverman


Many parents and my fellow bloggers were feeling a bit queasy when Mattel released their controversial silhouette on March 6th. We couldn’t help but wonder if Dora was becoming the new Diva– the new Bratz, or the new Lindsey Lohan or Miley Cyrus Look-a-like. There was worry that she could compromise body image, threaten her ability to empower our powerful girls, and stomp on their confidence. There was even a petition…that I was ready and willing to sign as soon as I got to see the full Dora (as of March 8th over 2000 signed).

But parents and bloggers are changing their tune for this toon.

Dora isn’t wearing a micro-mini as originally feared, but rather, a long shirt over leggings. How nice of Mattel to get so much extra media play before the reveal– only to dish out the final reveal with a heaping helping of crow for all those who pointed fingers. Not nice. Smart marketing. But not nice at all.

strawberry shortcake

We are programmed to criticize, aren’t we? But as parents, we are sensitive to media influence on our children as well as change that can affect how our children think and feel about themselves. And we should. And, well, nobody likes change. Remember how they changed Strawberry Shortcake from a pudgy, cat-carrying kid to a slimmed-down tween and that was tough. Perhaps something to do with nostalgia? Leaving well enough alone? Or, as a body image specialist, we can say that it’s also about taking down that belly fat and strapping on some shape-skimming outfit can have a negative effect on our girls. Somehow “freshening up” means going on a diet these days and of course, getting a little nip-tuck.

Well, back to our explorer in question. Well, she’s not a Sesame Street Walker as we might have assumed. But there are some issues. She’s traded in her exploring boots for ballet slippers and her practical exploring shorts for a fashionable frock and leggings– what does that mean? Well, no more jungle explorations. Which hurts. I kind of liked how Dora wasn’t afraid to get dirty while traipsing along with her jungle friends. She lost her stocky toddler-like body and traded it in for a stream-line look. A distinct lack of Latin curves is obvious. Did you really expect them to be included?

And yes, she’s pink-afied. And appears to be wearing some kind of lip gloss or lipstick. Not so great. And let’s not forget that on her interactive computer games, girls can change her eye color and hair– which threatens her Latina roots once again. Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Packaging Girlhood and co-founder of Hardy Girls, Healthy Women in Waterville, Maine, and a person who I admire and appreciate, questions, “why change her appearance at all? Why is appearance so important?” Exactly. As we’ve seen all over this blog, appearance is highly praised and highly criticized.  It has to be just right.

The good thing is that Mattel states that Dora “will expand into the world of solving mysteries that have overt and relatable pro-social themes — like volunteerism, water conservation, or planting trees to help the environment.” Yeah, we like that. That’s what we stress for Powerful Words— and any role model doing that is helpful.

Well, what do you think? Sell out or upgrade? Sign of despair or sign of the times?

Let us have your opinion.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Half of Teens Say Rihanna is at Fault for Abuse

rihanna assaulted by Chris Brown

Something is clearly screwed up.  In the Boston paper today, the results of a survey tells us that almost half of the Boston teenagers interviewed in a poll by Boston Public Health Commission said pop star Rihanna was responsible for her own beating. Yuck. Perhaps you remember that Rihanna has granted Chris Brown continuance after the abuse was outed. What do you think of that? Belittling the circumstance? How might it influence how our teens see their own bodies and the sacredness of other people’s bodies?  Celebrities have to watch what they say and do (or don’t do) when it comes to kids. They have influence whether they like it or not!

Who is involved? Teens ages 12-19

What did the survey say?

  • Almost 50% of the 200 teens interviewed felt Rihanna was responsible for the assault
  • 71% claimed that arguing was a normal part of a relationship;
  • 44% claimed that fighting was a routine occurrence in relationships.

What’s the big issue? Teens have somehow gotten used to or desensitized to domestic violence. Perhaps they’ve seen too much “reality” on TV. Perhaps they’ve been exposed to too much arguing and physical arguing. Perhaps our teen’s values need an overhaul. Oh boy, more work.

It’s time to start some important conversations here. Don’t wait. Do it tonight.  Your feedback is welcomed.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Happy Birthday Barbie! Begrudgingly Giving our Nemesis Doll the Nod


Happy Birthday Barbie? Begrudgingly Giving our Nemesis Doll the Nod

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Today isn’t any old day. It’s Barbie’s birthday.   But before you get out the paper streamers, party hats, and blow torch, let’s pause to reflect on the controversial yet ever present plastic bit of perfection in every girl’s life. Yes, you might not play with her anymore—but you remember. The button nose. The impossible long legs. The waist as skinny as what her thigh should have looked like?

I played with Barbie as a child. I admit it. My friend Bianca and I played for hours. Days. We got together to play with Barbie after school and on weekends. She was perfect. Her clothes fit perfectly. She was everything you wanted her to be—always fresh as a daisy first thing in the morning and stayed that way into the night. And those eyes! So blue! That hair, always coiffed even after lying down in bed for a quick cat nap in the Malibu Mansion. With spending so many hours with Barbie, it’s not surprising that she becomes a mold for how we “fit” as girls into society. Of course, nothing fits a mold quite like Barbie.

Has Barbie made an impression on you? Is she forgettable? Feeling nostalgic? When it comes to girl’s body image, she’s been names a great offender. It was only last month when she received the very first “TOADY” award (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children) from the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, for Mattel’s Barbie Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Doll. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds. Not only do we have the impossible body proportions, but we also have the sexy outfit that you wouldn’t want your daughter playing with at age 6 let alone 16.

Poor Barbie. At age 50 she hasn’t needed to deal with gravity pulling at her plastic caboose, gray hairs, crow’s feet, or thinning lips. Of course if she did, Mattel would probably just come up with “The Plastic Surgery Ken Doll” to help her out. There’s no question that Barbie stresses beauty over brains but after all, it’s not totally her fault–she is plastic.

Aside from the TOADY incident, Barbie has had a bit of a rough year—she continues to be criticized for her better-than-perfect figure (*sob*), denigrated for her new interest in drinking and partying (sniffle) and of course there was the Bratz incident, those snarky wild children with the hip makeup and tiny mini-skirts, yanking on Barbie’s gross income and sinking sales by 21%. I know, your heart is withering just thinking about her strife.

The acquisition and suing of Bratz owners MGA Entertainment may take care of that—as well as the nip/tuck of Barbie herself. What? You thought this iconic molded doll would go untouched? She’s a demanding customer. She’s going under the knife for “a thinner jaw line, more almond-shaped eyes, fuller lips.” How’s that for the fountain of youth? And by fountain, I mean money streaming out of our daughter’s piggy banks.

So what do we do? As parents and concerned adults,  how do we cope? Throw Barbie on the fire with the wood? Stuff her dress so she appears more rounded and normal? Paint on scars from hard work and wrinkles from stress so we don’t all look so harried in comparison? Your suggestions and stories are welcomed.

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Body Image: As a mother of a new baby girl…

I just became a new mother through adoption to our newborn daughter, Talia Paige Silverman, who was born on 2/19 at 10:19am, weighing just 5 pounds 6 oz, and measuring 16 inches long.  We couldn’t be happier.

Dr. Robyn Silverman, body image expert, with daughter Talia

Well, this puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?  As someone with a keen eye on media and body image it makes me wonder how I am going to protect her from the nasty media messages out there.  I just hung up with a friend of mine who told me that her 4 1/2 year old recently mentioned that she doesn’t like how she looks naked.  Yes, 4 1/2. I want to know, how long do I get before I need to start fielding such comments myself?

She nestled into my chest as I write this– I have her in a sling so she’s close to me.  She’s warm and happy and getting pleasantly plump on breast milk.  We all like our babies robust and healthy– so where does it all go down hill?  I’ve heard about mothers who limit what they feed their babies for fear of starting them out “fat” and we really do need to stop the madness.Yes, these messages can start that early and that close to home.

Talia Paige Silverman, adopted by Dr. Robyn Silverman

My wish for my daughter is that she is happy with herself– that she’s healthy in body and mind– and she successfully blocks out the millions of messages that tell her that she isn’t good enough the way she is.  Because she is.  She is beautiful in every imaginable way.

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