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?

Yours,

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Is anyone going to take responsibility for bullying in our schools? Anyone? Anyone?

Blame

Dr. Robyn Silverman

For me, it didn’t have to do with weight or body image.  But for so many, it does.Whatever the reason, we’ve got to do something. Anything. Watching people point fingers and put temporary band-aids in place that aren’t being followed in the first place isn’t helping anyone.  Not the teachers.  Not the bullies.  And certainly not the victims.  When is the time?

When I was in 5th grade, I was bullied.

As a woman in my 30s, I can still say this: It was one of the worst years of my life—perhaps THE worst—because going to school was so horrible and yet I had to do it 5 days a week. I still remember the knots in the pit of my stomach—waiting on line to go into the school—waiting for the laundry list of female relational aggression to start. Everyday was the same. Target…ostracized. Rumors…sent. Eyes…rolled.

The teachers never knew what to do. I’m not sure if they were cut off at the knees, they didn’t have a plan, or the school didn’t have their back.  All I know is that I was labeled “sensitive.” It was my problem—the teachers did feel bad about it but… “kids will be kids.”

So I stood there on the black top during recess, completely alone, clearly unhappy, clearly apart from the crowd, and yet…nothing. The one time something was done, I was sent to the library as the rest of the class sat in the classroom with the teacher and talked about…me. Then one of my “friends” who bullied in me in school came to get me, gave me a stare down before entering the class, told me not to “lie” and left me in her dust. Then the teacher talked to the class with me present. It was humiliating. It didn’t help. At. All.

So when I read yesterday in the Washington Post that the laws that were enacted to cope with the bullying problem, especially since the shootings in the 90s, offer practically no protection—mostly because, well, they aren’t really being enforced, I got that familiar knot in my stomach again. If you’ve never been bullied, it is the most sickening, exhausting, heart-wrenching feeling. You don’t feel comfortable walking around in your skin. You want to be anywhere but there. You want to be anyone but you.

It’s actually one of the reasons I do what I do.  From creating Powerful Words to the work I’ve done with girls to the presentations I do for teachers, coaches and instructors. I want to help kids like me—I want to help kids like those who bullied me—I want to help them early so that maybe…I don’t know…maybe an infiltration of character education, and understanding of how words and actions shape lives, encouragement that adults need to get involved and take responsibility– would help a few people avoid what I went through…or worse.

But what about the anti-bullying laws? And as it is, the laws wouldn’t have even been helpful for someone like me. I was only in 5th grade. The laws only apply 6th-12th. So what about those kids who aren’t yet 12 years old and in the 6th grade? Some will never reach it. Just take a look at these sad cases:

An 11-year-old had complained of teasing and was found hanged in his Springfield, Mass in mid-April.

A 10-year-old boy hanged himself in a restroom stall in a suburban Chicago school,

An 11-year-old boy was found dead in Chatham, south of Springfield,

An 11-year-old daughter hanged in a closet of their Chicago home.

All complaining of bullying before the tragedies.

One of the big problems here is that people are quick to point the finger at who should be in charge of teaching children not to bully and inflicting consequences if there are incidents. Parents point to teachers and school officials to take responsibility, teachers and school officials point back at parents.

“A lot of this has to be handled in the home,” said Peter Daboul, chair of the board of trustees at New Leadership, the Massachusetts school where her son was a 6th grader.

But what happens when the fingers get pointed? Nothing gets done. Result? Kids suffering.

I also find it very frustrating that relational aggression is clearly given “a pass.” Even those states that are doing something about bullying (like threatening that schools will lose their funding if they don’t keep good records and transfer bullies after 3 offenses, such as in Georgia), these departments are only tracking broad offenses like fighting and threats. So much for spreading rumors, being ostracized, and intense teasing. Those wouldn’t qualify or be recorded.

There is still great confusion about how to define bullying, what’s offensive, what’s child’s play, what can lead to tragedy. What counts? Blows to the head? Cyberbullying? Taunts and teasing? “One of the questions is how do you quantify bullying? It could even be as simple as a rolling of the eyes,” said Dale Davis, a spokesman for schools in DeKalb County, Ga., where Herrera committed suicide.

Maybe we should ask the kids…who are being bullied.

“In 2007, nearly a third of students ages 12 to 18 reported having been bullied during the school year, according to data on more than 55 million students compiled annually by the National Center for Education Statistics.”

So where are in this? Just spinning our wheels until something more tragic happens that leads us to wonder if what we are doing already is the right thing to do? I can tell you now—it’s not. I mean, 55 million kids sounds like a lot to me. does it to you?

I don’t know…maybe I’m just being sensitive.

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The Ick Factor Getting the Best of the Breast Feeding Baby Doll?

The Ick Factor Getting the Best of the Breast Feeding Baby Doll?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

I’ve got to be honest. I’m grappling with something here. This breast-feeding doll for little girls. I haven’t written about it because truthfully I really wasn’t sure what I was feeling about it.

The doll, called “Baby Gloton,” is manufactured by a Spanish Company and is not yet available in the States. It will be though—next year. In the box comes a 20 inch doll (newborn size) ready for suckling. It also comes with a halter top with daisies placed strategically where working nipples would be—if the young girls had them. When the doll is lifted to the nipples, it makes suckling noises.

I know. Some of you are thinking, well, yuck. It does have a strong “ick” factor. And I wondered to myself, “why?” I mean, the feminists and breast-feeding advocates are right—breast-feeding is natural and normal. Having just adopted a baby myself, I’m around breast-feeding often and think it’s wonderful. Many babies are breast fed and we, in America, believe in breast-feeding just like the European countries do. Not all babies bottle feed, as other baby dolls would have us think. So, a breast-feeding baby doll makes sense…right?

I think the problem here is that we don’t like to think about “nipples” and “suckling” when it comes to our school-age daughters. Even if it’s all pretend.  Because, of course, it is!

But with all the talk about sexualization and pushing our girls to grow up so soon, the doll feels inappropriate. Or…is that just “our problem?” Are we making this very non-sexual thing into a sexual thing when it isn’t?  (And let us not forget—that girls simulate these kids of acts with baby dolls that aren’t programmed to suckle. Just as they pretend to feed, change, and comfort their dolls, they may pretend to breast feed—and they don’t need any special dolls to make that happen.) We’ve certainly seen that breast-feeding has made people feel uncomfortable before– remember Selma Hayek and the hungry dying baby she breast fed? People were even uncomfortable with that– so a breast-feeding doll stands little chance of acceptance!

Are Americans just oversexualized—or too uptight? Are we backwards thinking or just prudish? Are we all just being scammed and ripped off?  Or perhaps, we just like our children’s toys to be a little less realistic.

After all, look at Barbie. She’s as unrealistic as you can get and she’s been around for 50 years.

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Dr. Robyn on the Radio talking about Body Image

Dr. Robyn SilvermanCraig Cohendr. pauline wallin 6-15-09 body image

Dr. Robyn Silverman, Dr. Pauline Wallin & host Craig Cohen on SmartTalk radio this AM talking about body image. Listen now!

This morning, I had the pleasure of being on WITF SmartTalk radio, a division of NPR, talking about body image. We discussed everything from the media’s influence, the parental influence, peer influence, and plastic surgery.

Some of the topics:

(1)   How early can issues of body image be seen in children? Studies over the last 40 years tell us that children as young as 3 or 4 (and certainly by kindergarten) already perceive the societal pressures to be thin.  Whether the children themselves are thin or what the medical world would call “overweight” when shown pictures of all different children they label the largest one as the child they wouldn’t want to look like at all, the one who has the fewest friends, the one who they’d least likely want to be friends with, the one who is the meanest—and I’ve had plenty of parents who’ve come to me and said that their 4 year old asked them if they were too fat, their 5 year old wants to know if they need to go on a diet, and other weight-oriented comments that would cause any parent alarm.

(2) How pervasive is this problem of negative body image? Let me first say that the issue is so pervasive that it is no longer a “clinical” issue—we have created a culture of girls who are obsessed with weight such that it is more normal to be on a diet than not—to feel bad about your body than not—to think about your weight than to not– There are many good studies on this topic and the statistics can be startling—

  1. Some studies tell us that up to 80% of girls are dissatisfied with their bodies and have a fear of being fat
  2. And over half are dieting at any given time
  3. Almost 2/3 of girls use “unhealthy weight control behaviors” (whether it’s laxatives or purging or diet pills or powders)  to lose weight
  4. Anywhere from half to ¾ of girls say they weigh too much whether the medical world would say they do or not
  5. The main thing to notice here is that feeling fat and going on a diet is becoming the norm—and dieting is more prevalent than not-dieting.

What are the body image issues for boys? Boys are dealing with something that is now informally being called “The Adonis Complex”—named after the Greek mythology figure Adonis who was half man and half god—he was considered the ultimate in masculine good looks and ideal physique for men. And, if you are familiar with Greek mythology, Adonis had a body that was so perfectly beautiful that Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, fell in love with the site of him. Boys are hearing messages about how they are supposed to look too– and they internalize these messages and are prone towards negative eating practices, steroids, and other alternative methods to thin out and buff up.

I want to add this fascinating and “sick” new development. “Now even Vogue thinks you can be too thin”

And how about this for insane? Bony models are digitally retouched to look fuller.

Listen to the broadcast to find out more!

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Girls are Diet Doping to Lose Weight

Weight and women

Dangerous Diet Doping: Being Thin at all Costs

Dr. Robyn Silverman

As we know, “feeling fat” has become a common part of everyday life for girls and women. Dieting is the norm. Complaining about weight is a expected and encourages. And doing anything you can to achieve the perfect thin body, accepted and supported.

A recent online poll of 993 teens and women has suggested that an alarming 1 in 10 girls and women are using drugs to lose weight. Were they in an unhealthy range for weight? Nope. Two thirds of responders–67%– were in the healthy weight range. What does that tell us? The healthy weight range is not perceived as thin enough. Hollywood hard bodies and unattainable rock-hard abs are what we’re striving for. No matter what people say, the diet doping is not often linked to losing weight for health (how could it?), it’s linked to looks.

Many times, when attempting to lose weight, young girls subscribe to unhealthy practices such as quick fad diets or acts of purging including vomiting and laxative abuse instead of using a healthy regiment of exercise and maintenance of a balanced diet. Girls and women are looking for the quick fix– THINNESS NOW- not what’s going to make them healthiest in the long run. In doing so, they turn to what IS NOT healthy. In fact, in the poll, 10% of respondents to the poll owned up to taking stimulants like cocaine and speed, 26% said they were abusing diet pills or laxatives and one in 5 admitted to suffering form eating disorders. What’s healthy about that? It’s a practice I like to call “diet doping” and I’ll be talking about it in my upcoming book coming out in 2010.

Most people might think that the African American girls and the Latina girls steer clear of such practices. Nope. If you think it’s only the Caucasian girls you’d be wrong. The intense pressure to diet has amazing cross over affects. Studies over the last 25 years have shown that rate of these subclinical eating practices, dieting and purging, and diet doping are increasing among all social and ethnic classes.

It’s crucial that we begin conversations with our girls early about what it truly means to be healthy. In doing so, we must also commit to being healthy ourselves and refrain from criticizing ourselves, using destructive methods to lose weight, or applauding others who lose weight at all costs as being “disciplined” and “healthy.” Let’s get back to basics. I mean, remember when healthy meant having good balanced nutrition, energy, good support and well managed stress? Let’s go back to that. Who’s with me? Let’s do it.

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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

bratz

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.

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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.

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