Friday, August 03, 2007
Pre-teen body image issues
What would you do if your 8-year-old daughter looked in the mirror and said, "I need to be skinny before school starts"? You might gasp. It's a startling statement coming from a very young mind, but it's not surprising, given our culture's emphasis on being thin. As eye-opening as your little girl's statement might be, your response as a parent, experts say, is very important.
The most critical element of your reaction is perhaps the most difficult to pull off: Be calm. Lynn Grefe, the CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, says don't be punitive, or outraged, when you respond to a child who says something about her - or his - body image. She says it is important to determine where the "skinny" statement is coming from. "Find out what the source is - ask, 'I am curious why you would say that and why you believe that? Are you feeling bad about yourself?" Grefe says that in most cases there is usually something else going on. She suggests asking children about the magazines and TV they see and talking with them about what is real (the people they see on the street) and what might not be (the airbrushed and made-up people of magazines, movies and TV). Grefe also says it is important to expose young children to role models of all different shapes and sizes.
Fathers play a particularly important role when it comes to body image issues among girls. Grefe says fathers are often in denial about identifying eating disorders in their daughters. She says they will dismiss concerns, often raised by their wives, and tell their daughters they look great - only reinforcing what could be very bad, and potentially deadly, habits. Grefe says fathers must help fight society's emphasis on appearances. "Fathers should focus their talk on the inside - what is inside their children." Grefe says telling daughters that they ARE beautiful is better than telling them they look beautiful.
Parents should also be careful about their own body image issues. Casual remarks such as "I feel fat" or questions like "Do I look fat in this?" are heard by young ears and can plant the seeds in young minds. Grefe says young, normal-size children should not be dieting. Period. Those who are should be talking to someone, perhaps a professional, about how they are feeling about themselves. Grefe says children should be taught to be healthy and strong, regardless of their size or body type.
Are body image issues a problem among the pre-teen set? How would you react to your daughter if she said she needed to be skinny?
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