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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Glamour Magazine displays model with a fat roll! Save for posterity!

lizzie-miller_the_woman-on_page194_glamourGiven that positive body image and media don’t often click these days, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for this fabulous shot of a normal looking woman in Glamour Magazine…

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Look.  I’m happy to see some more versatility in the media these days when it comes to shape and size.  When I was interviewed on this topic several years ago regarding the DOVE campaign and how I felt about it being in the top women’s magazines I said “well, it’s a start.  But the fact that there is one add that shows women in other sizes besides 2s and 0s, and a hundred that show that extra small is the only size, we have a long way to go.”

Now, I’m in the same boat.  I’ve been getting questions recently about how I feel about the new show “More to Love.”   On the one hand, I’m happy to see that a show featuring women who aren’t stick thin on primetime, but on the other hand, why is it all so segregated?  These women are still being shown to the “back of the bus” by saying “here, have a show, but you can’t be on the show with the thin women—you need your own show.” Do they have to drink from their own water fountain too? I know I’m not alone here.

I had a similar reaction to Glamour’s model, known as the “woman on p. 194,” who actually had a little pooch that stuck out over her underwear in September’s issue. Her name is actually Lizzi Miller, a 20 year old model , size 12-14, who is also an avid softball player and belly dancer.

People have gotten really excited—and Cindi Leive, editor of the magazine, was apparently shocked by the response.  She even wrote a post on the magazine’s website which talked about the vast number of letters she has been receiving since the magazine hit newsstands. She wrote:

The letters blew me away: “the most amazing photograph I’ve ever seen in any women’s magazine,” wrote one reader in Pavo, Georgia. From another in Somerset, Massachusetts: “This beautiful woman has a real stomach and did I even see a few stretch marks? This is how my belly looks after giving birth to my two amazing kids! This photo made me want to shout from the rooftops.” The emails were filled with such joy—joy at seeing a woman’s body with all the curves and quirks and rolls found in nature.

I’m thrilled to see something—anything—different than the one dimensional, one sized, one-shaped girl in the pages of a fashion magazine. I am.  And I don’t want to sound ungrateful here…or jaded…but…isn’t it sad that we get all worked up by a single picture sized 3in. X 3in. of “normal” among so many of “oh so thin?” (And she IS pretty normal—in fact, her BMI is 25.1—the medical “normal” range is 18.5-24.9 so it’s not like she is so “outside of the box!” And yet…she is!)

And isn’t it bizarre that the editor is SO surprised that we actually WANT to see different shapes and sizes when we open up a fashion magazine that is supposed to make us want to feel beautiful and…GLAMOURous?

Yes, people.  We actually DO like to see that women don’t need to be stick thin in order to be considered beautiful.  We like to see all different types of women because…well, then, there is more of a chance that many of us out here will see ourselves in those magazines and feel good about what we see in the mirror.  Girls and women need to see diversity in media. Not that one picture makes me say that we have hit the nail on the head—one picture IS NOT diversity.

But, it seems that Leive is not totally dense.  She wants to know what kinds of pictures people want to see—and assures us that it won’t fall on deaf ears.

“Trust me, Glamour‘s listening, and this only strengthens our commitment to celebrating all kinds of beauty.”

As our colleagues over at Jezebel relay to their reads;

Hopefully she means it, because it’s already obvious from the response to one three by three inch photo that women are interested in seeing beautiful pictures of women of all shapes and sizes that look like them, rather than what the magazine says they should aspire to look like. But, we’re still skeptical. If magazines run more images like the one on page 194, women may internalize the idea that you can look sexy with messy hair, no clothes or accessories, and a layer of body fat and stop buying products to fix their natural yet somehow “flawed” figures.

Yup.  And wouldn’t THAT be just sooooooooo terrible!!!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

Hey Kelly Clarkson: Your Real Self isn’t Good Enough For SELF Magazine

kelly-clarkson_untouched and photoshopped

SELF Magazine Warning Needed?

Subject on Cover is Bigger Than  She Actually Appears

Dr. Robyn Silverman

When I was sitting in my Sassy Sisterhood Girl Circle showing how magazine editors photo-shop the hell out of every photo that comes their way, something clicked.  Meaghan, age 13, looked right at me and said.  “So what you’re saying is…the girl on the cover doesn’t even look like the girl on the cover?”

Yup.

Case and point: The Kelly Clarkson cover of SELF Magazine.

I can’t say whether magazine editors are incredibly stupid or off the charts brilliant.  Placing a very slimmed down photo-shopped version of Kelly Clarkson next to the words “Total Body Confidence” is definitely a great way to get our attention.

And  after the buzz of the Kelly Clarkson cover of Self has been scrutinized, dissected, and discussed on many forums in cyber-space, Self’s Editor-in-Chief, Lucy Danzinger, admitted with a shrug, that “Yes, of course we do post-production corrections on our images…SELF magazine inspires and informs our 6 million readers each month to reach their all around personal best.”  Translation: Of course we shave off pieces of someone’s body.  It’s what sells magazines and products advertised in our magazines! Airbrushing  makes people feel that their personal best is not good enough—that’s why they need us!”

Look. There’s no question that the Kelly Clarkson photos were retouched. Everyone admits to it. Other magazines do it– heck– nearly all media does it! I think what troubles me is the “ho-hum” attitude that taken place in media.  We saw it with Miley Cyrus recently and the controversy over whether she did or did not do a stripper pole dance at the Teen Choice Awards—again, it wasn’t about the pole but about how jaded we’ve become about seeing teens push the limits on stage so that they can sell more.  The SELF magazine cover of course wants to sell more magazines—we get that—but their message is so convoluted now.

Case in point: SELF as the title.  Figures that SOMEONE should look like “SELF,” right? Perhaps “SELF…not” or “SELF…photoshopped” would be more appropriate.  In the magazine itself, Kelly Clarkson talks about her weight.

“My happy weight changes… Sometimes I eat more; sometimes I play more. I’ll be different sizes all the time. When people talk about my weight, I’m like, ‘You seem to have a problem with it; I don’t. I’m fine!’ I’ve never felt uncomfortable on the red carpet or anything.” (Kelly Clarkson)

Thus the words in the magazine say one thing—but the images say another.  It’s very smart…and very hurtful to girls and women.  It says “This is Kelly  Clarkson…she is happy with her weight…but look how thin we can make her look!” Sad.

The editor in chief talks about how proud she is of Kelly Clarkson and her confidence–

“Kelly Clarkson exudes confidence, and is a great role model for women of all sizes and stages of their life. She works out and is strong and healthy, and our picture shows her confidence and beauty. She literally glows from within. That is the feeling we’d all want to have. We love this cover and we love Kelly Clarkson.”

Translation: She glows from within—we just needed to fix this yucky outside she has.  Ya know…fat doesn’t sell.

But the thing I hated the most was the nonchalant way they explained themselves. SELF editors actually felt that they were right to  give Kelly Clarkson a thinner body on their September issue—not because they want to sell magazines—not because they thought there was a bad angle– but because they don’t think that covers should reflect reality (i.e. people are actually normal and human), but “inspire women to want to be their best”.

Their best? By providing something that doesn’t actually exist?  By degrading the woman on the cover by putting a version of herself on there that isn’t actually her?

I think our friends over at Jezebel.com said it well:

Danziger was right: the point is that magazine covers “inspire women to want to be their best.” And the best way to keep women reading Self‘s workout recommendations and buying the useless beauty products advertised on its pages is to inspire them to keep chasing after a version of themselves that Doesn’t. Really. Exist.

Unfortunately—Kelly Clarkson doesn’t seem very bothered by the cover shot.

She says makes that clear so her blog:

“we decided the cover of the album and just in case you haven’t seen it i’ll post it! it’s very colorful and they have definitely photo-shopped the crap out of me but i don’t care haha! whoever she is, she looks great ha!”

Whoever she is?  Is this SELF or The National Inquirer? Next stop: Aliens. Especially if they’re thin.

And how might this affect our girls? Because we can’t forget– there are millions reading this magazine and looking at the pictures for “inspiration.” According to one grieving mother over on Self.com where she commented about this topic she wrote:

I was appalled at seeing Lucy on the Today show trying to rationalize the drastic photoshopping Kelly Clarkson. People cannot be photoshopped. My beloved daughter died in May of consequences of Bulimia. Her 8 year struggle with body image was not helped by the constant barrage of “the right look”. Of all publications, Self should be promoting health and acceptance of ones self, not some fake Hollywood ideal. The cover of Self is a sad spectacle of our society. You should be ashamed of YOUR self! Signed Grieving Mother

There ARE repercussions to our actions.  Girls and women actually look at this stuff and think “I should look like this.” But even Kelly Clarkson doesn’t look like this! Can you say “false advertising?”

Oh well. See? Nobody seems to care about this stuff anymore at all.  We’ve just gotten complacent. Of course, more and more teens are suffering from body image issues—but please, keep going folks.  Provide us with our best version of ourselves.  Even if they don’t exist.

So…perhaps magazines need to come with a warning label like on cigarettes—or like on the side mirror of a car.  “Object on cover is bigger than she actually appears.” What do you think?

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

Avatar Diet: Being thin in “second life” can make you thin in your first?

Credit: RTI International

Credit: RTI International

The Avatar Diet: Does this Avatar Make My Butt Look Big?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Trying to get rid of that belly fat? Looking to thin down those thighs? Want to straighten out your body image and “combat obesity” while looking at your computer screen? It’s time to join the virtual world!

If you were ever wondering if a vitual representation of oneself (Second Life) could really have any influence on the fitness or appearance of the actual person in real life, according to one study out of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, it can.

The researchers at RTI suggest that having a physically fit and thin avatar may just be the next thing to put this “obesity epidemic” behind us.  I mean, who needs Atkins or South Beach when you can have The Avatar Diet? The researchers found that having a thin and physically avatar fit may encourage individuals to become healthier and more physically fit in their real lives.  Yes– that’s right– people are more likely to engage in physical activities in their real lives if their avatars in Second Life engage in physical activities.

“Based on these preliminary results, it seems likely that virtual reality users may adjust their identity to be consistent with that of their avatars,” –Elizabeth Dean (research survey methodologist at RTI and the study’s lead author)

The results suggest that 80 percent of respondents who reported high levels of physical activity for their avatars reported participating in high levels of physical activity in their real lives. This is where it really gets strange for me though– this link is suggested to be causal (the avatar is thin which causes the person to go and get fit too)– rather than a simple correlation (the avatar is thin AND the person is thin). It seems logical that if someone was to make a representation of themselves, that if they were “fit” and going to the gym, they would make their avatar do so as well.  It would “represent” them.  Not sure where the causal link idea is coming in– especially because good research does not suggest causation– simply, correlations.  But I digress…

Another aspect of the study showed that if the participants were interviewed by a thin avatar for this study rather than an obese avatar (this is just getting strange), the participant would be more likely to confess a higher BMI (Body Mass Index).  In addition, almost 3/4 of participants, when interviewed by the thin avatar, told the interviewer that their avatar was also thin.  But when interviewed by the obese avatar, only 1/3 of participants described their avatar shape as thin. Apparently, people like to bend the truth about their own bodies in Second Life around thin avatars.  Geez.  Just like high school again.

Interestingly, the virtual world is becoming a place where some health professionals are sending their clients for treatment.  Since people are apparently influenced by their avatars, and want to live up to what they put out there in the virtual world, hanging out in Second Life could make a difference in one’s first.

Are they creating virtual gyms and virtual low cal meals too? This one remains to be seen.  Considering that this study was only done with 27 participants (a very low research number which provides very low power to the results), we can’t totally buy what these researchers are saying. And of course there is the lingering question– does size really matter?  Does it really have to?

But no doubt, people will give “avatar diet” a shot.  No quick pill to lose weight this time– just a quick dose of Second Life.

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Too Fat? Discrimination Against Surgeon General Nominee Dr. Regina Benjamin

Too fat to be Surgeon General?

Too fat to be Surgeon General?

Too Fat to Be Surgeon General?

Discriminatory Claims Circulating Against Dr. Regina Benjamin’s “Fitness” to Be Surgeon General

Dr. Robyn Silverman

There have been some unfortunate derogatory groans about Dr. Regina Benjamin’s Fitness to be President Obama’s pick for Surgeon General.  Her weight is throwing opinions of her fitness for the job off kilter.

Case and point from one angry blogger:  “Rather than select a fat Black woman Obama should have chose a Black woman with a body mass index of 25 or less.”

Someone else asked: “How can Dr. Benjamin promote healthy eating if she herself is obese?”

and

“One of the greatest health threats in our population is obesity. Now we have an obese Surgeon General as a role model. How is she to impact the nation’s health if she can’t even take care of herself?”

Of course, her qualifications speak for themselves:

  • Bachelor’s degree in 1979 from Xavier University of Louisiana
  • Attended Morehouse School of Medicine from 1980 to 1982
  • Received a doctor of medicine degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1984.
  • Completed her residency in family practice at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in 1987
  • Founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in 1990 in Alabama
  • Serving as Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic its CEO since.

Today, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is speaking out saying that Dr. Benjamin “personifies the message of NOW’s Love Your Body Day (LYBD) campaign, which promotes equality for all people regardless of physical appearance.”

My friend and body image book contributor, Chenese Lewis is also an actress, plus-sized model, and chair of the LYBD committee for Hollywood NOW. She had something to say on the topic:

“Discrimination based on appearance is wrong in any form, period,” Lewis said. “It’s unfortunate that this is even an issue when Dr. Benjamin is more than qualified and capable of handling the position of Surgeon General. This is yet another example of how society puts more value on outer appearance over ability, integrity, and character.”

Zoe Ann Nicholson, President of Pacific Shore NOW, was also outraged about the discriminatory slaps Dr. Benjamin was receiving due to her weight:

“When I see Dr. Benjamin, I see a woman I can trust,” Nicholson said. “If I have chest pains, it might not be a heart attack or something related to weight. She might understand that just because I am big, a doctor should not give me double doses. Both of these things have happened to me. Since most American women are size 14 or more, I am really encouraged to have a Surgeon General who can see us as people, not as number on a body fat scale chart.”

So…what do you think?  Should the Surgeon General pick be thinner? Does weight negate her stellar qualifications? Give us your opinion.

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The Impact of Dads on their Daughters’ Body Image

dads and daughters

Dads impact on Daughters Body Image

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Do dads have an impact on girls’ body image development? You betcha!

I just finished a great interview with Joe Kelly aka “The Dad Man” in preparation for writing the chapter on Dads for my body image book.

Number 1 question on my list: How important are Dads when it comes to girls’ body image development?  After all, moms and daughters have been studied, analyzed, discussed, and discussed again—but issues of Dad’s and daughters have taken a back seat.

The impact of Dads (and step dads) on their daughters is profound.  As the first man in their lives, Dads set the precedent of how daughters believe men see them.  What do they value?  Are looks a major issue?  Do they see their daughters as a full “human” with thoughts, feelings, interests, and principles—or simply as a girl who should look and act a certain way?

Studies tell us that what parents say– yes, that includes Dads too– have a powerful influence on how girls see themselves, their dieting habits, and their overall views about body shape and size. Fathers, who tend to tease their children more than Moms, have been reported to have a very harsh impact on their daughters and their self image. In fact, girls whose dads made fun of them are far more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies,  to exhibit eating disordered  behavior, to have low self-esteem, and suffer from depression. Of course, Dads can also have a positive impact on girls and how they view themselves– so what can you do, Dads?

Mr. Kelly underscores that Dads need to see their daughters as individuals not just as girls.  Every girl is different—every child is different—what is their daughter all about? Certainly weight shouldn’t be the first thing (if at all) that comes to mind! In fact, weight should be irrelevant considering looks change constantly and should not have a bearing on who your daughter is as a person.  Weight is a cultural issue now—it shouldn’t be YOUR issue.

So how can Dads have a positive affect on their daughters’ body image development?

Mr. Kelly’s advises Dads to stop buying into all the cultural crud and see their daughters as multifaceted people. Show her that the media , the “product” world, the celebrity world and the advertising world fosters a bunch of lies and the measure of a woman is based on who she is, who she helps, how she feels, how she uses her mind—not on how she looks, how much she weighs, and what size she wears.

He also wants Dads to remember that for every advertisement out there– imagine your daughter’s face on the model or actresses body.  Would you really want that to be YOUR daughter? Do you really want her receiving THESE messages? For example (thank you for this ugly gem,  Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth, of which I am an advisory board member)

I know…yuck.

Remember, Dads, your daughter is looking to you to understand how she is viewed by 49% of the world.  What do you want her to see when she looks in the mirror? What do you want her to think when she is around boys—and later, men?  Talk to her about it.  Show her how you feel.

And for those of you who are telling your daughters that they are “too fat” or some other form of appearance criticism, please know that you are overtly contributing to the body image problems your daughter has now and your daughter will have in the future.  But to those Dads who are remaining silent, don’t think you are in the right.  By saying nothing at all, you are covertly contributing to the problem.  Yes, by saying nothing at all, you are letting the world speak for you.

Take a stance—then take a stand. Be the father she needs and deserves.

**Have a story about how your Dad or step Dad influenced your body image (negative or positive)? Please send me your story for the book (to be published in 2010 by Harlequin Books)!

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More Beautiful You and Other Positive Body Image Songs

Positive Body Image Songs

Dr. Robyn Silverman

During a time when it seems that no girl can look in the mirror without criticizing what is reflected back at her, it’s refreshing to hear a song that isn’t about sex, tight jeans, boobs and long legs.  Girls and women latch on to what they hear.  We need to hear more positive messages, don’t we?

Thanks to Dara Chadwick for bringing this song to my attention.

More Beautiful You Lyrics (By Jonny Diaz)

Little girl fourteen flipping through a magazine
Says she wants to look that way
But her hair isn’t straight her body isn’t fake
And she’s always felt overweight

Well little girl fourteen I wish that you could see
That beauty is within your heart
And you were made with such care your skin your body and your hair
Are perfect just the way they are

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

Little girl twenty-one the things that you’ve already done
Anything to get ahead
And you say you’ve got a man but he’s got another plan
Only wants what you will do instead

Well little girl twenty-one you never thought that this would come
You starve yourself to play the part
But I can promise you there’s a man whose love is true
And he’ll treat you like the jewel you are

So turn around you’re not too far
To back away be who you are
To change your path go another way
It’s not too late you can be saved
If you feel depressed with past regrets
The shameful nights hope to forget
Can disappear they can all be washed away
By the one who’s strong can right your wrongs
Can rid your fears dry all your tears
And change the way you look at this big world
He will take your dark distorted view
And with His light He will show you truth
And again you’ll see through the eyes of a little girl

Other Positive Body Image Songs to Inspire Us to Love Ourselves and What We See in the Mirror

Put Your Records On (Corinne Bailey Rae)

Beautiful (Christina Aguilera)

Listen (Beyonce)

Unpretty (TLC)

Ugly (Sugababies)

Video (India Arie)

Any others you can think of?

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