Body Image and Children: 7 Ways to Protect Your Daughter (or Son) from Eating Disorders

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Tooshie: Defeating the Body Image Bandit

After her brother said she was fat, Karen (not her real name) vowed to do whatever it took to get into a pair of size 6 Calvin Klein jeans.  Most women who struggle with eating disorders remember this type of significant moment in their stories.  This vow included starving herself to the point that she passed out on a beach.  When she regained consciousness, the EMT asked her, “What can I do to prevent this from happening to my daughter?”  With tears in her eyes, she answered, “You can love her unconditionally.” 

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe these elephant thighs,” you remark in front of the mirror as you try on a new pair of jeans.  “Maybe I have elephantitis, and my doctor hasn’t diagnosed me yet.”  Your daughter hears this, and you both laugh.  But the problem with these types of negative body image statements is that they…

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The Scoop on Childhood Obesity

When it comes to body image, causes of childhood obesity consist of much more than the icing on the cake.  Hardly a week passes when we don’t hear about the epidemic of obesity among Americans.  About 1/3 of adults are obese, and 17% of children and adolescents are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The stat that chips my teeth, however, is this:

Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children has almost tripled.  That is frightening.

Besides eating away at a positive body image, obesity can contribute to:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • type 2 diabetes
  • certain types of cancer

Those four conditions are some of the leading causes of death.

Childhood obesity has received much discussion.  Top reasons for the problem include sedentary lifestyle which replaces physical play with technology  play.  Kids are stuck to their computers, phones, and televisions like chocolate chips 

in cookies.

Not that technology is bad, but it’s time to consider limiting tech time and adding physical play.

Another entree in the smorgasbord of childhood obesity is a diet loaded with fat, sugar and white flour.  Fast food and easily prepared foods are usually are high in calories, fat grams, bad cholesterol, and sugar.  Our fast-paced society leads to children and adults grabbing whatever is easiest to eat.  Drive-through food has become a main staple in the American diet.  If you haven’t seen it yet, rent the movie Supersize Me and you’ll understand what most fast-food food does to health.  (Thankfully, we now have wonderful alternatives at fast food restaurants which are more nutritious and lower in fat and sugar.) 

But the one factor of childhood obesity that few people are talking about is…..(drumroll, please):  Story. If you draw a timeline of a child’s life, what are the significant events that caused some degree of pain?Sometimes it’s moving.  Other times it’s the separation or divorce of parents.  (No, I’m not saying that divorce causes obesity, but I am saying that  bumps along the road of life can cause people to self-medicate with food and other substances.)  It could even be losing a pet.  If you look at your own story, you’ll  probably see that if you have body image/food issues, they started or took deeper roots during the bumps along your life story.

We must address the obvious issues of childhood obesity such as exercise and food choices. However, if we don’t address the pain in our children’s stories, we will likely miss a main course of the weight gain equation.  Good counseling can help.  Children can work through the pain in their stories and stop using food as their drug of choice. I have seen many clients lose weight they needed to lose by working on the pain in their stories. (I don’t work with children, but this principle applies to all ages.)

So there you have it…a recipe for improving the problem of childhood obesity.  It’s definitely not quick or easy, but certainly well worth the efforts.  And the garnish on top is an improved body image.

Photo by Chelsea Panos

Abercrombie and Body Image

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Eating breakfast yesterday, I watched The Today Show’s segment on Abercrombie’s marketing of padded,push-up swimsuit tops for seven-year-old girls.

As if the word “padded” wasn’t bad enough, I almost choked on my Cheerios when I heard the word “push-up.”

Maybe Abercrombie should change their name to SADbercrombie. A few hours later, Abercrombie removed the phrase “push-up” from their web site. 

Really, Abercrombie…do you think you can remove the phrase “push-up”, continue to sell padded swimsuit tops for children– and think it’s all good?

I’m deeply disturbed by this. 

The sexualization of children has plunged to a darker floor of the elevator of despair. Do we want to encourage children to think their value comes from looking sexy?

Our culture already teaches kids they can get more attention by looking sexy. Do we want to encourage pedophiles by dressing kids in sexy swimsuits?  Shouldn’t kids be playing and learning instead of pondering whether or not they are sexy?

I am sickened by dragging kids into the marketing carnival, all in the name of greed.
Although your marketing techniques have always disturbed me, this is over the top. You should be ashamed of yourself.

What are your thoughts?

“For the love of money is the root of many kinds of evil.” (Note:  Many times this is misquoted to “all evil.” There is a huge difference!  Sometimes people use money for good.)

I Tim. 6:10

Body Image and Barbie: Bye Bye, Barbie

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BARBIE™ A FASHION FAIRYTALE GLITTERIZER™ Wardrobe and BARBIE® Doll Playset - Shop.Mattel.com

Dear Barbie,

Today I’m officially saying goodbye.  I haven’t actually played with you in decades, but nevertheless I feel I need to write you a formal goodbye letter.  I know you’re wondering why I decided to take such a drastic measure.  I hope this letter explains my concerns. I used to love and admire you, but in the past several years I’ve realized our relationship isn’t healthy.

My main concern is that you’re completely unrealistic in your dimensions. Media Awareness Network says, “Researchers generating a computer model of a woman with Barbie-doll proportions, for example, found that her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and a few centimeters of bowel. A real woman built that way would suffer from chronic diarrhea and eventually die from malnutrition.” BARBIE™ IN A MERMAID TALE 2 MERLIAH™ Doll - Shop.Mattel.com

 

Barbie, I imagine you’re familiar with the problem of eating disorders in every advanced nation.  Americans, for example, see over 250,000 ads by the time they’re 17.  Most of them show ultra thin models, which tell girls and women, “To be thin is beautiful, and beauty is almost everything.”

The majority of American girls have played with Barbies fairly often , and this reinforces that thinness is next to godliness.  Yet your unrealistic body type pushes the envelope further, making girls feel less beautiful if they don’t have large chests.  This grieves my heart.  Frankly, Barbie, it makes me angry.  I know you’ve made some improvements over the years, and I’m thankful for your efforts.  For example, your wider waistline is a bit more realistic than the original.  Also I congratulate you on your addition of Barbies of color.  In fact, this architect Barbie helps girls to believe they can chase and pursue their passions.  I believe if we don’t pursue our passions, we wilt and die from the inside out.  So the architect Barbie offers them a great taste of hope.

BARBIE® I CAN BE...™ Architect Doll - Shop.Mattel.comThose are great steps in the right directions.  Even so, Barbie, you’ve had almost 52 years to get it right.  Enough is enough.

So I’m writing to say goodbye, and I’m going to encourage people to stop buying you.  I hope Mattel or another manufacturer designs and sells a doll that is similar, yet has realistic proportions.  I hope you’ll consider resigning if you continue to resist necessary changes.  I wish you the best.

Sincerely,

Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC

Barbie® Designable Hair Bundle - Shop.Mattel.com

“Man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7

 

Body Image and Children: Five and Feeling Fat in a Normal Body

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“Mommy, do these jeans make my butt look big?” my friend’s daughter asked her.  After assuring her five year old that she was exactly the way God wanted her to be, Sandy (not her real name) called to tell me.  She knows I’m writing a book on body image, and thought I would be very interested in the comment although it certainly created a wave of guilt and confusion in Sandy’s heart.

“Where on earth did Cassandra (not her real name) get this kind of thinking?  I’ve tried so hard not to verbally bash my body in front of her, and I try to praise her on what she does instead of what she looks like.  What on earth is going on?”  I could tell Sandra strained to hold back a floodgate of tears.

After letting Sandy vent, we talked about the fallout of living in a culture in which we see over 250,000 ads before the age of 17.  The ads, for the most part, scream out to women, “To be thin is to be beautiful, and beauty is almost everything.”  That lie infiltrates our thinking and invades our souls to the point that we feel that a great deal of our value comes from how thin we are.  Due to this environment, women often talk about the triad of subjects that can easily lead to self-contempt.  Those are food, fat, and fannies.  Women are easily swept into the whirlpool of stinking thinking about their bodies.  If we are not careful, we can get pulled into the undercurrent of negativity.  Comparing ourselves with mannequins who appear to have such a low percentage of body fat that they would not menstruate if they were real people is certainly stinking thinking.

What would happen if women supported each other in stamping out stinking thinking concerning body image?  No more complaints about our fannies and other unassorted body parts.  No more talking about diets and fat and saggy, baggy eyes and breasts that hang to your knees.  No more stinking thinking, period!  (For more on this subject, check out my blog entitled, “7 Ways to Protect Your Daughter or Son from Eating Disorders.”Let us focus on the positive, and lightly sprinkle our conversations with a focus on health rather than obsessing about our various body parts that gravity is gobbling up.  After all, God knows our hearts and tells us to focus on the positive (Philippians 4:8).  So let us focus on using our gifts, talents and stories to help create beauty in the world instead of focusing on our so-called body imperfections. Be thankful you can walk and move and breathe without pain. I know what it’s like not to be able to do those things, even though I used to run six miles a day and swam competitively for years. (See “My Story “at the top.) The greatest beauty lies in giving thanks for what you have instead of focusing on our society’s insatiable hunger for the so-called perfect body. After all, the perfect body is the one God gave you.~

Want more? Read my book, Tooshie: Defeating the Body Image Bandit.

 

 

Body Image: How Mothers Influence Body Image

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A great deal has been written on how fathers play strong roles in the development of their daughters’ eating disorders.  Negative relationships between fathers and daughters create holes in the hearts of their daughters which they believe can be filled by getting and staying thin.  Not surprisingly, girls and women have fallen prey to the jaws of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder for many reasons we have already discussed.  But a massive amount of research has poured in to spell out in all caps, in bold, that fathers’ relationships with their daughters help to get them swallowed up into the mouths of eating disorders.

Since the topic of fathers’ roles in the development of their daughters’ body image issues has been covered, I have chosen not to include that in my book.  Throughout my years of working with women, I have heard perhaps hundreds of stories of how mothers have influenced the development of body image issues of women and girls.  Due to the powerful effect of our mothers’ own body image issues on our stories, I have decided to include a chapter on this subject in the book.

Sadly, I must warn you that most of the stories are overwhelmingly sad.  In fact, you may get overwhelmed reading this chapter, and I apologize in advance.  My hope and reason for writing the chapter is that women will gain great perspective about how their own words about their bodies and their daughters’ bodies blossom seeds of darkness or light in their hearts.  All in all, mothers’ words have great power to bless and great power to eat away at the hearts of their daughters, creating a wake of despair and depression as well as eating disorders.  And so my grandest hope is that after reading this chapter, you will be acutely aware of one of the most powerful lies: “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  In fact, words shatter our hearts and shoot bullets of shame and despair deep into our souls until we bleed from within.  And this pain plummets down the shaft of despair until we land in the city of Hopelessness.  But the flip side of this is that if we understand the impact of our words, we can encourage children and teens to feel good about their bodies.

When I asked my friends on Facebook to share their stories about how their mothers impacted their own body image, I received a variety of responses.  One of them came from a woman in her sixties whom I will call Sally.  Sally explained that her mother had a serious phobia of fat.  She was hypercritical of Sally’s body, and made her take diet pills when she was in junior high.  Once she grew up and married, Sally continued to navigate the line between enjoying eating with her husband and controlling her weight.  Women gain an average of 18 pounds during the first year of marriage, so women often find it discouraging to move from their pre-wedding weight to their rounder, settled in weight.

During the pregnancy of her second child, Sally was sick a lot and discovered that throwing up resulted in weight loss.  Eventually she became bulimic and stayed bulimic for over twenty years.  Finally, during her studies at nursing school, she came to the realization that bulimia was destroying her from within and decided to kiss it goodbye.

Sally’s mother recently died at age 95, and Sally wrote in her email that her mother was still overly concerned about her weight and how she looked, even though she was quite ill and suffered from dementia for several years.

The trenches of our body image issues certainly run deep, not even lightening up due to old age or illness.  Even with dementia, many womens’ love/hate relationships with their bodies and food cause great distress as they continue to obsess about how they look.  The desire to get and stay thin is a constant dose of poison that our culture feeds us day in and day out to the point that we lose touch with what it means to have a normal, natural, womanly body.

By writing about the power mothers have on their daughters’ self-esteem and body image issues, I hope that women begin to understand the power of words and decide to offer encouragement instead of despair.  The seeds of negativity create ugly weeds that lead to self-contempt.  But the beauty of seeds of encouragement offer great joy as we learn to look at our bodies in terms of the amazing things they can do.  Will you use your words to bless flowers of joy onto the next generation, or seeds of despair to heap loads of despair onto today’s children and teens?