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,

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

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.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

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

One Girl’s Reaction to Teen Celeb OverExposure

Gossip Girl age 15What’s a parent to do with all these overexposed teen celebrity images?

Celebrities are wearing skimpier outfits everyday. Of course, there is less of them to cover these days too, having lost so much weight.  After all, that’s the “new normal” isn’t it? What are parents supposed to do with all these images? Hide away our girls forever? It’s no wonder some parents have contemplated it.

My opinion has always been that we need to open up communication with the teens themselves with regard to these images.  What do they think?  Sharing your values but also listening to their concerns and opinions are vital if we are to make any progress in this area.

Miley_VanityFairThat’s why it shouldn’t surprise you when I post teen responses to these questions. I always love it when teens write in with their perspective.  Perhaps they can teach us a thing or two?  Here is one teen perspective from a 15 year old girl– still stinging from the Miley Cyrus debacle (radio interview here) last year along with other overexposed celebs.

Ok Miley Cyrus and all those celebs maybe a little too young to understand this but being a celebrity is not all about money, fame, fashion and getting your hair done whenever you want. If  you want to be a  celebrity you should try to be perfect, i know it sounds crazy but that’s the cost of being a celeb. She KNOWS that young girls look up to her and i still consider those pics a little too provocative (even i’m 15 and make sure that i’m all covered up in public). Therefore posing for them is a BIG MISTAKE.  Someone said parents should control what their kids should see and hear but that would seem impossible with the media at every inch of this world. It really is time parents start paying more attention to whom they consider their role model. I mean my parents don’t even know who miley is and if they did they’ll ban me from the net.

I look up to girls that are ‘tough’ and not too girly and not afraid to be themselves like the old avril lavigne. Yes she has changed and i used to loathe her for being a party animal but her music esp. complicated, when you’re gone, slipped away and innocence had a big impact on my musical interests. She has real talent and her lyrics are just amazing with the exception of girlfriend of course!

It’s important for parents (of girls esp) to start acting when they’re young and innocent. First of all parents are a child’s primary influence and i personally think that controlling the type of toys would really help.  Though crazy it might seem girls shouldn’t be adorned with so many teddy bears, dolls, pink stuffed animals. This makes their personality ‘too girly’ and this is what makes them think it’s ok to look up to   britney, miley(hate her!), Lindsay lohan and you name it……..

As a  baby my parents never adorned me with more than about 20 toys. They bought me very few dolls (only about 4) and more towards animals. As a result today at 15, I hate pink, i don’t like the conventional boyfriend gossip, i don’t act like dadda’s lil princess. Instead i’ve taught myself to look more towards reality….like world issues (my dad encouraged me at a very young age to watch news) and no this doesn’t mean forcing cnn down kids’ throats, i mean let them step outside of confinement and look at what they’re surrounded with………..let them sympathize with the poor, needy . This will automatically have a big impact on their personality and in no time their taste of music will change from pussy cat dolls to u2.

I know this may sound nerdy but nerdy is better than…….you-know-what…….

So…is it? What’s your take? How should parents deal with these young celebrity images anyway?

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

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.

food_plate

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.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

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

smarttalk banner

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 witf.org. Click on the SmartTalk icon and look for Monday’s blog entry on Body Image.

Would love to hear from you!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs