Wednesday, September 16, 2009

But I'm Too Fat!

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To continue last's week theme...

A study conducted by the Harvard Eating Disorders Center reported fifty percent of girls of ages eight to ten were already unhappy with their size and wanted to be thinner. Why do girls as young as eight yearn for thinner bodies?

Carla Fine in Strong, Bold and Smart says, “Girls as young as eight years old express concern about their weight, according to a recent study conducted at Stanford University Medical School.

More than one half of the girls in the survey, who ranged in age from eight to eleven, said they were dissatisfied with their weight. More than a third wanted a thinner body, and 16 percent had attempted weight loss.”

The study asked girls why they wanted to lose weight. “The reasons they gave included teasing by peers, pressure from family, feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed, and wanting to feel better or look better.” Researchers also asked how the children learned about the concept of dieting. “Three-quarters of the study’s participants said they heard about dieting from a parent, while more than half had also heard about weight loss from television and other media sources.”

Runway models and actresses aren’t helping matters. Remember the reference to actress Jennifer Love Hewitt last week (in the Entertainment Network storyline about Hollywood and thinness). She said, “I go to these parties and I am the fattest girl in the room. I wear a size 2.” Another actress talked about wardrobe sample sizes. She had to wear a size 0 to fit the sample sizes delivered by designers. “If the clothes don’t fit. I don’t get the job.” These are the images our children are comparing themselves to.

Although media images are a problem, we must also look at ourselves. If every time we walk by a mirror and talk about how fat we are, or that our skin is wrinkling, we are sharing our focus on appearance with our daughter.

If we don’t believe we play an important role, Nancy Snyderman (Girl in the Mirror) asks us to rethink our stance. “If you need convincing about how important this is, keep in mind a study published in October 2000 in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The report discovered that girls as young as the age of five form ideas about dieting—and the need for it—from their mothers’ behavior! Forcing ourselves to become aware of the messages we send our daughters—about our womanhood, our looks, our bodies, and what we find meaningful and important in life—is the first step toward helping our daughters become healthy adolescents who will grow into fulfilled and secure women.”

Mary Pipher in Reviving Ophelia told us, “Girls are terrified of being fat.” So are mothers, and a mother’s attitude about her own body has a significant impact. Fathers, brothers and other significant males in your daughter’s life do too. Always focusing on how your daughter looks will direct your daughter’s attention to her appearance.

A recently published book Would Be So Pretty If… by Dara Chadwick, provides parents tips she calls body image builders. She tells us to “cultivate kindness,” with yourself and others. She also says to “skip the mirror,” cutting back on the frequency of mirror glimpses one takes. She asks us to “appreciate our strengths” and “revisit history together,” spending time looking at photographs of the women in your family, complimenting the people in the pictures, helping your daughter understand the family she comes from.

If your daughter has body image issues, Chadwick’s book is a good starting point to begin helping refocus your child in healthier ways.

Allyn Evans
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