Body Image Tips to Raise Healthy, Confident Daughters

Dr. Robyn Silverman

September is an amazing month for action. You can smell it in the air. Back to work.  Back to school.  Back to…snarky body-bashing comments from “friends,” coworkers, and the girl next door who, as it turns out, isn’t that nice after all.

What are we doing? It’s time to get it together.  If women can’t be nice to each other, who the heck are we all supposed to lean on?  Come on.  Men are…men.  We love them but they don’t understand the plight of women and girls like…well, other women and girls!

I know next month is national Love Your Body Day– in fact, I will be posting an amazing interview with Love Your Body Day event planner, Chenese Lewis this week. But do we really need to wait to love our bodies?  Do we really need to wait to give our friends, colleagues, and family members a compliment, a smile, and a quick “you go girl” to help them feel like they are valuable, worthwhile, and an asset to themselves and society? Yes, I mean despite their weight.  Who cares?  No woman or girl is worth more when they weigh less.  We need to fight back.

Here are some quick tips for parents and yes, other women, to help inspire our girls to hone those assets and reach their potential.  Don’t wait for Love Your Body Day.  Do it now. How about teaching that to your daughter or some other girl today?


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Clean the Plate Club: The Weight of Mom and God?

pasta plateDisband the Clean the Plate Club?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Thank you to all of you who have already submitted stories to my body image story website in preparation for my forthcoming book!  It is very telling– so many stories have similar themes.  This one, which came in recently, hits on a point I want to talk about today: The Clean the Plate Club.


Colleen’s Story: My Mom is a card carrying member of the clean the plate club. I guess that makes me one too. I have always felt like I needed to sneak food since the girls in the house weren’t supposed to really eat “real food.”.  My Mom would always say,  ‘no don’t eat the meatballs, eat the salad.’  I would think to myself, “but I want the meatballs.” I know now that forcing me to eat the salad only meant that I would eat the salad in front of her and then go back and eat the meatballs when she wasn’t looking.  So I wound up eating double.  Denying me the food would only make me want it more.  Then I would be out with my friends and I would think “Ha! Nobody’s watching so I can eat whatever I want.”   “You did not leave the table without cleaning your plate.  It was a sin to waste food–as opposed to eat until you are full.  It says it in the bible that you can’t waste.  My mother would always quote it so it was ingrained in me at a very early age. “It still sticks with me.  I say it all the time when I am out with friends.  I tell them, ‘I am so full, I couldn’t eat another bite.  And they tell me just to take it home.  But I say, “no, no, no, I have to eat everything.  That was what I was told growing up.’ That is why I continue eating but feeling bad about it.  I was told you have to finish everything but told not to gain weight at the same time. ”

What are studies telling us?

(1) Little girls as young as 3 years old are being warned by their parents to watch how much they are eating so that they do not gain unwanted pounds.  At the same time, little boys at the same age and size are being encouraged to “eat up” so that they become strong and solid big boys (International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2005). Girls are clearly being given different messages than are boys when it comes to food.

(2) Parents who try to control their children’;s food intake by insisting that their children clean their plate are the more likely to find that their kids, especially the boys,  request larger portions of sweetened cereal at daycare (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2008).  In fact, in a recent study, preschool aged members ate 35% more fruit loops than those who were not members of the clean the plate clubwhen given an unlimited portion. This interferes with children’s own ability to listen to their bodies and determine when they are full. They begin to be at war with food which can affect their relationship with food and their bodies.

hotdog clean the plate club

In addition. studies clearly show that families of adolescents with disordered or problem eating tend to overemphasize food, fat, dieting, and weight.  An overemphasis of food and food control is associated with a higher incidence of girls eating when they are not hungry.  Daughters whose families control food and emphasize diet are more likely to have mothers who are more critical of their daughter’s weight and figure.  Not surprisingly, such a family climate is associated with a girl’s greater concern about weight.

Interestingly, when I bring up these issues with some of the girls and women who have been guilted into cleaning their plates, they bring up issues of God and respect for their elders. In fact, when I followed up with Colleen and I asked her if she thought she could change her behavior so she could reclaim ownership of her body she wrote; “Well, how could I go against God’s word?  And every daughter knows saying “no” to their Moms is harder than you think.”

I think it is safe to say that “clean your plate” is no longer good advice.  No offense to Mom or God.  It may have been a good preservation technique during the depression or at times of famine or scarcity, but that does not apply to the lives of these girls.  Studies show that once the power struggle is taken out of meal times, children will self correct their under eating, overeating, and general weight problems.   It seems difficult, however, for parents to refrain from pushing “one last bite,” “clean your plate”  or “you shouldn’t eat so much of that.” Every child is equipped with a hunger gauge with controls how much they should eat.  If parents continually override those signals, the child will have trouble tuning in to that hunger gauge and relying on something internal, rather than external, to tell her how much to eat.

What are your thoughts? Does the clean the plate club influence how we feel about food or our bodies? Weigh in.

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Dr. Robyn to Be On SmartTalk Radio Show: June 15th

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Dr. Robyn Silverman on WITF’s SmartTalk

Hi everyone!

Join me via the web or on the radio in Harrisburg, PA, for an hour long discussion on body image on June 15th at 9am EST.  We’ll be mainly focusing on girls but will touch on the challenges for boys as well.  “Smart Talk” is on the station WITF, an affiliate of NPR, and can be heard through the web if you’re not in the Harrisburg area.

Host Craig Cohen will lead the discussion on Body Image. From the shows and ads on TV, to the models in newspapers and magazines, to storefront windows, to…well…anywhere you look – images bombard us that tell us what we’re supposed to look like. And many of those images are not only utterly unrealistic, they can do great harm – to adolescents especially – who grow concerned about their body image. Vanity also has led to a booming cosmetic surgery industry. But where’s the line between reasonable, appropriate efforts to look one’s best, and unreasonable, unrealistic efforts to reach some sort of ideal? And what does it say about us that we feel so compelled to always look “better?”

If you’d like to hear the full show at a later date/time, audio will be archived that afternoon at Click on the SmartTalk icon and look for Monday’s blog entry on Body Image.

Would love to hear from you!

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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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Way too Young to Look That Old

Does Anyone Have a Cover up?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Is it any wonder that many young preteens or teens want to dress beyond their years and walk out of the house wearing dresses that look like lingerie or low cut blouses exposing their bras?  Parents and teachers– boy are we up against a major force.  It’s the celebrity force.  Perhaps we can also refer to it as the “The Miley Cyrus Cyclone,” the “Gossip Girl Gale Force Winds” or the “Lohan Factor.” These girls are 14 and 15 years old…allegedly– several of whom are hitting the club scene:

Hard-partying “Gossip Girl” star Taylor Momsen smooches girls in nightclubs, Miley Cyrus dates a 20-year-old model and Lindsay Lohan’s kid sis loves her cleavage-baring shirts. Did we mention they’re all in their mid-teens? (NY Daily News)

Have you seen these pics?

Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert PremiereGossip Girl age 15

Could we get the dress a little more low cut or the skirt any higher?  What are we saying to our girls about what they should be exposing to the world in order to be fashionable, beautiful and loved?

And of course, some parents are either oblivious or just right on board:

Ali Lohan and Dina Lohan

You would think these girls were older– and then they show you that, no, they’re just as young as their age tells you they are.  Miley, for instance, was on the Ellen Degeneres show, giggles like a…well, school girl when asked about her boyfriend– yes, at 15 years old, she’s dating a 20 year old. Can you say, “underage?”

What do you think of our daughters’ role models?  And what does this tell our sons about what to expect?

Hey Parents and Mentors! How are you combating these forces of Hollywood?

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How Fat is Too Fat for Hollywood?

Not exactly fat?

Not exactly fat?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

We all know that the window into the hyper-critical, ultra-sensationalized world of the famous and the “becoming famous” is getting smaller still.  But it’s always surprising to see just how tight the mold is that you must “fit” in order to “fit in.”

This young actress had a meeting with a casting director from LA with the hopes of landing a role.

“Without a glance at my head-shot or resume, and not even a decent introduction, this stranger looks at me, all 5 feet and 2 inches, 125 pounds of me and says, “You need to lose twenty or gain thirty because where you are right now, I can’t do anything with you.”

The young actress was a little shaken by the information as well as a bit confused. Not wanting to be rude, she asked; “Can you elaborate on that?”

To which she replied,

“Your face says ingenue but it wouldn’t quite work, and I can’t put you as fat best friend because you’re not *exactly* fat.” (— Katy, Broadway)

Have we gone mad? Not exactly fat?

Shall we see how *fat* this actress really is?  And how small the window into Hollywood acting really is?

BMI Categories:

  • Underweight = <18.5
  • Normal weight = 18.5-24.9
  • Overweight = 25-29.9
  • Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

This young actress has a BMI of 22.9. Of course under-scoring that even if the medical community is telling a girl that her weight is “normal,” Hollywood says it’s not good enough.  And, Hollywood is conveying that in order to be one of the “chosen” ones, you must fit their mold.  I mean, who ever heard of an ingenue having a BMI over 19.2? That would be…a travesty of outrageous proportions…pun intended. If the average size of an American woman is a 14, why do all ingenues need to be a size 0? Of course, we can simply have out Hollywood starlets continue to waste away.

Note: The casting director wants her to have a BMI of around 19.2 in order to be “acceptable” as the ingenue and around 28.3 to be considered for the fat best friend.

What do you think? Outraged? Annoyed? Frustrated? Fair? Don’t care?

7 Things Girls Must Do to Fit In Today

Body Image. Sexy Clothes. Today’s Music Scene. Two of our passionate teen readers want to share their view on growing up as a girl in America and dealing with messages about how to dress, how to look, and how to be. I’d like to introduce; Andrea Wilczynski, age 19 and Caitlyn McKiernan, age 20, from Randolph, Massachusetts. Thank you for your well written and interesting views…

Seven Things a Girl Must Do To Fit In Today

By: Andrea Wilczynski, age 19 and Caitlyn McKiernan, age 20,

Edited by: Dr. Robyn Silverman

Visual Perfection. US society holds the youngest of females to an impossible standard of beauty, an unattainable one. Media fills young minds crippled views of what the world wants – a smaller waist, a bigger chest and a big, fake smile. But how does the average girl next door type fit into the puzzle that is everyday life in 2008?

She must:

Reform herself: Lest she want to constantly see doubt in the faces of parents, friends, and her own reflection. A female would rather coincide to the plastic shine the media creates – be an oversexed version of a Disney princess with a size zero waist and the hope that a famous prince will escort her to happily ever after – big money and fast cars just beyond suburbia. Girls are pushed to be sex symbols, encouraged to binge and purge away their calories in hopes of squeezing into low ride jeans and revealing tops. Females are forced to alter their definition of beautiful body image and conform to the gender identity of media.

Embrace the Bratz, Barbie, Princess Façade: Many girls play with dolls: learning role play, understanding social relationships, and working toward gender identity. Barbie was always a valuable commodity – she aspired to be a doctor, a chef, a teacher or a mother on an ever-changing basis. However, Barbie’s outfits have changed in the past few years. Now, the doll is a princess, a model, a vixen dressed in black for the world to marvel at. She also has a younger look, designed to lure in the average five – seven year old consumer. (Barbie,2008). This doll, along with the newly remodeled Strawberry Shortcake, Polly Pocket and slew of Disney characters have been dressed for success – a cell phone, flamboyant pink colors and completely refashioned looks. Bratz dolls teaching girls that cutting edge fashion includes exposed bellies and full lips start the process of transforming children young.

Dress Provocatively Too Soon: Kids want to dress up, feel pretty, and emulate the actions of TV stars in an attempt to feel some sort of glamorous connection to adulthood. The tragedy in this, is that children are being exposed to sex in it’s most subtle and ugliest form; not knowing that the ads on TV can be ignored – that the hundreds of commercials girls are exposed to can be blocked out. Body Image and Child Development Expert, Dr. Robyn Silverman, posts a blog responding to the concerns of parents, and posted the fact that “about 7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV” (Silverman, 2008). Available in stores now are thongs for girls age seven to ten with apparent clever sayings like

“wink wink” along with Beyonce’s pimp and ho wear unacceptable for youngsters. mesmerized/fooled by the controlling lights of the advertising industry as their offspring. Little girls long to dress like mommy, in a small black dress or fashionable shoes. And Disney encourages it, as does Barbie with her very fashionable accessories – which Hannah Montana and Ashley Tisdale promote. Most girls’ pants cannot be purchased with a normal waist line – it’s all “low rise” or “hip hugging” pants, which requires purchase of smaller and tighter undergarments. It’s an endless cycle of high priced merchandise – with female self esteem taking a hard toll.

Sing, Hum, Dance, and Videos of Songs with Over-sexualized Lyrics: At a local elementary school dance two weeks prior to today, songs like “Crank that (Soulja boy)” and “Low” were played – both including explicit lyrics and inappropriate messages to the excited ears of ten and eleven years olds. The music industry has always had a way of presenting girls in a revealing manner; attractive women in bathing suits kissing the rich performer, winning his love and fortune by the end of the averaged three minute clip. Women are degraded in such videos – put down and referred to as “bitches”, “hoes”, or “bimbos” in many of today’s “top 40” hits. These same songs are rewritten by the Kids Bop group – slipping the idea of adult themes into the soft sounds of kids’ voices performing regular hit songs. These same ideas are plastered in high school aged girls – who wear short, revealing dresses to proms instead of the tradition long, fluffed-out ones and grind against their dates, creating an uncomfortable friction for any mythical spirit attempting to stop them.

Stare Wide-eyed at Unattainable Images: Similar to music, the female heroines in movies and TV are always gorgeous, talented, but unnoticed and witty – a perfect package to land the ideal man (who also happens to be moderately to highly attractive). MTV capitalizes on young, beautiful women. Shows like “America’s Next Top Model ” and “American Idol” reach high rating as they berate the physical traits of people who anticipate more of themselves. On “ANTM”, girls who wore a size 8-10 were considered “plus size”. Movies only cast the elite: the flawlessly tanned, perfectly made up woman with legs that go on and on, and piercing eyes. Girls of all ages attempt to impersonate that fake look in reality, forgetting that Hollywood money can buy computers that alter and specialists to dress, and paint and remake any face. And while boys face this social plight as well, one study showed “50% of the commercials aimed at girls spoke about physical attractiveness, while none of the commercials aimed at boys referenced appearance” (National Institute on Media and the Family, 2002).

Give in to Peer Pressure Just to Feel “Normal”: The average girl is trying to be everything to everyone; loving, and smart and pretty and real. Who is wearing what? How do I fit in? What is right? When asked, a ninth grade girl stated “You never feel like you’re thin enough, pretty enough, or just good enough” (Girls Incorporated, 2006). Life for teens today is who has a great looking Facebook picture – it can be a far bigger deal than what college applications to fill out. Girls spend weeks tanning, ripping hair out, spending hundreds on name brand clothing (this is sported in stores by perfect models) buying make up and cleanser and straighteners – just hoping the someone will notice how great they look walking to English (and with all that primping, who has time for homework?). Thinking that men hope for some personal connection to Hollywood, women tear themselves apart trying to change themselves and others in the images set out by the media and their peers. Many girls will even submit to the pressure and participate in less appealing acts such as sex, drinking or drugs – hoping that they appear more “normal”.

Diet Because She’s Convinced She’s Too Fat: Some young children even attempt at dieting, forgetting that children need strength and energy of a well balanced food plan… not the selected interests of confused children’s stomachs. The blame can be passed to parents, who are usually just as influenced. Girls seem to mirror the cultural obsession with chemically altered foods, following in that same stride by modifying themselves with the hope of being chosen by someone. Fat has been targeted as an enemy, normal has a suspicious eye and all who fail to comply are outcast.

Women will risk health and bank account, will dye and curl and cover, will starve and stuff and change to win the affections of society – to be told that they have achieved the same appearances as the Hollywood starlets and commercialized ladies that live on the screen. Girls have a hard enough time trying to find themselves without competing with the pictures of pin-up models. There’s something within, hidden under all that products and… little else: a heart, a soul, a mind – a girl.

Thank you for sharing, Andrea and Caitie,