How To Talk to Your Kids About Weight and Beauty Issues
Parents: You can make a difference.
With unrealistically thin, airbrushed-to-perfection role models populating television and magazines, young women are pummeled with images that are impossible to attain in reality - and young men are, too - creating a pressure-cooker micro-society in school that can lead to low self-esteem, if not worse problems like bulimia or anorexia.
Parents - mothers and fathers both - have more of an impact on their children than is immediately apparent. While kids - particularly teenagers - appear to dismiss what they hear, they really are listening.
These are the tools you'll need:
- time with your child on their own territory (their room, for instance.)
- a calm attitude (Resist becoming emotional about things: you're the grownup. To make kids of any age feel secure, you need to remain in control.)
- perseverance (You'll need to talk more than once, twice, or three times. This is true any time you want to make a point.)
- an Internet connection
Since this issue is pervasive - it's threaded through the media so that young people live and breathe it - be aware of it all the time. Don't become a nag, but make the issue part of your life.
Dads, especially, can have a big impact if every time they see a too-skinny, too-perfect woman on television or in a magazine, and casually remark: "Oh, she's WAY too thin. That doesn't appeal to guys." Kids listen - especially when they don't think you're talking to them.
Mothers can be honest with their kids, especially their daughters. Yes, society DOES put pressure on women to be thin. Yes, mothers themselves have dieted their way into dresses for special occasions, have obsessed over getting back into their "skinny" jeans, have lived on Altoids and water for a week, but now that they know better, they realize true beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
This "true beauty comes in all shapes and sizes" will be greeted, in all likelihood, with a scornful snort, and realistically, we'd all love to be a size two, with legs like a Radio City Rockette, a stomach as flat as a board, etc. But just as realistically, we also know that the most important beauty ingredient is not a flat stomach, or a tiny waist. It's confidence.
Almost all of us can pull out photo albums from when we were teenagers and show our kids how good we looked - except maybe for the out-of-date hairstyles and clothing, so be prepared for some mockery. Do that, and confess to your kids how you yourself felt like you looked awful at the time, even though clearly you didn't. Explain how every teenager thinks they do.
If your child is in fact, overweight, and is sensitive about it, be proactive, BEFORE they fall into trying to solve the problem themselves by refusing to eat at all, or falling into some other eating disorder. Fill the fridge and the pantry with healthy alternatives, like fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, low-fat yogurt, and other easy-to-grab snacks.
Take great care to be extremely sensitive with an overweight child. Almost anything you say will be interpreted as: "She/He thinks I'm FAT." (Trust me, this is nearly guaranteed.) Try explaining it this way: "You are NOT a fat person. Fat people let their bodies get out of control and don't do anything about it. We think like thin people. A thin person gains a few pounds, just like anyone else - but then they work to lose it again, so they keep their weight under control."
If your child has gone online to calculate her Body Mass Index (BMI) - for instance, at the National Institute of Health web site, remind her that this is a very general and sometimes inaccurate measure. A very muscular person, for instance, will weigh far more than someone who is not, since muscle weighs more than fat.
I myself am a size four or six, and I usually weigh around 135 pounds. If I dip below that relatively high weight (I'm only five feet, one inch tall), I start to look positively skeletal, because I am a very muscular person. I can weigh up to almost 150 pounds and still look tiny and thin, so the BMI is very inaccurate for someone like me.
For children and adolescents, exercise is the most important part of keeping fit. In addition to keeping healthy food in the house (and allowing fun food once in a while - if they NEVER get an ice cream, or a sweet, that's a recipe for disaster; you want to teach them moderation, not deprivation), you want to motivate them to MOVE.
If they haven't got a good bike, get one. Bike riding is fun, and kids can ride for hours with their friends. If you haven't got a bike, you might consider getting one, too - it's a great way for you to exercise, too, and you can not only spend time with your child, but you can both stay in shape.
Got a dog? Walk it together. I myself lost ten pounds without even trying in the first three months I got my dog. During walks, it's even easier to talk.
Limit television and computer time. Studies have shown that a person burns fewer calories watching television than they do sitting doing absolutely nothing. THAT'S how passive an activity watching television is. Not only that, but how often do people snack while watching television, besides?
Lastly - but most importantly - encourage your child's talents and abilities. This will help develop her confidence and sense of self, so that she will concentrate less on her outer beauty, and more on her inner self - where her true beauty lies.
The Award-Winning Dove Evolution Ad: Watch a model transformed not only by makeup, but by the magic of digital distortion.
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Girls as young as seven are being treated at Great Ormond Street for eating disorders. A senior consultant at the hospital said that some of his youngest patients are being influenced by the fashion for stick-thin models