Well, it’s not like we didn’t know it. Reporter/writer Jeffrey Zaslow reminds us today in the Wall Street Journal that life ain’t what it used to be. It was 23 years ago that he interviewed some fourth graders in Chicago trying to determine if dieting and poor body image really was as big of a problem as the studies said it was. Well, it was. And now, it’s worse.
The celebs in 1986 were into the fitness phase, as your recollection of leg warmers and off the shoulder “flashdance” shirts might remind you– so girls were thin but they were still rather healthy. Now, well, you know what celebs look like now. If it’s not Jessica Stroup, it’s Glamour Magazine photoshopping the hell out of Kelly Clarkson making sure her waist looks as tiny as an unrealistic Barbie Doll. Now studies show that kids are striving for zero (or double zero, or triple zero, sheesh) and being sexualized early in the process. As I’ve asked before, what IS the new normal?
I love the way one 1986 fourth graders summed up what she saw in the media when interviewed back then by the WSJ– and what she thinks now as an adult:
Models look like popsicle sticks,” Suzanne Reisman told me in fourth grade. Today, she amends her observation: “Now they look like toothpicks.”
But don’t get me started.
Studies, as cited by the WSJ, suggest:
Researchers have seen a marked increase in children’s concerns about thinness in just the past few years. Between 2000 and 2006, the percentage of girls who believe that they must be thin to be popular rose to 60% from 48%, according to Harris Interactive surveys of 1,059 girls conducted for the advocacy group Girls Inc.
A preoccupation with body image is now showing up in children as young as age five, and it can be exacerbated by our culture’s increased awareness of obesity, which leaves many non-overweight kids stressed about their bodies. This dieting by children can stunt growth and brain development.
That’s right– age 5. Kindergartners are wondering if they’re too fat. Other studies I’ve read in preparation for my book have suggest that even preschool children understand that in our culture “fat is bad.”
I get that we are trying to keep our children healthy by discussing obesity and the need to keep children physically active and eating healthy foods. But what about the flip-side? I can’t tell you how many schools have approached me asking about programs for their school only to reveal that while they have some obesity awareness programs in place, they speak nothing about body image, fear of fat, media’s influence on our behavior, and eating disorders. It’s a crying shame– their schools just don’t have the funds to provide programming for the flip-side of the coin. Obesity is a hot topic and poor body image is left in its wake.
My colleague, Claire Mysko, author of “You’re Amazing,” hits the nail on the head here– as she told the WSJ how she also feels that so much worry over obesity can make girls obsessive about weight. Of course she acknowledges that the programs are great vehicles to fight a growing problem, “we have to be really careful how we are implementing nutrition and body imaging.” Yes– we do.
Isn’t it possible to teach girls to be physically active, eat healthily, and feel good about their body shape and size? it seems to me, that psychological well being is just as important as physical well being– and in fact is tied in so tightly together that separating them out is not only silly, it’s careless.