Message Watch: Body Image


A rant worth transcribing: Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair’s rules to not complicate body image issues in your kids

“Never put your own body down. Don’t practice body loathing in front of your kids, especially moms…. Never put your body down. If you think those thoughts, just keep them to yourself.”

“Never make a nasty comment about anybody else’s body…because it says to kids, ‘What you look like will define who you are.’ And it’s really tricky because that’s one of the few forms of social unkindness as well as comparisons and put-downs that are very condoned in our culture.”

“Do not be a nutcase about what your kids eat…. If you start talking about all different kids of fats and oils and white food and carbs, you’re basically practicing a form of obsessive vigilance. Buy the stuff in your house that you think is healthy; healthy eating includes eating things like birthday cakes and treats.”

“Do not model baking a cake or delicious dessert and then not eating it yourself because you are ‘being good.’ We have a tendency in our culture–and this is something that’s very linked to eating disorders for girls… where when your life feels fat or you’re depressed for other reasons or… life is just not giving you the happiness you want, it’s so easy to resort to what our culture says you should do, to fix it. And those two things are either: go on a diet or go shopping…. But it doesn’t work. And the other thing that our culture does, for women in particular, is that we have a morality of orality, where we actually think of ourselves as good or bad based on what we eat. So moms and daughters… go out for ice cream and say, ‘Let’s be bad’…. So what happens is that we decide and pass on that we’re good or bad… our character, is based on whether we get frozen yogurt, nothing, or ice cream. And kids resort to that when they feel crummy because there’s very little you can do when you’re a teenager and you’re not happy, and one thing you can do is buy into the cultural myth that controlling your body will bring you happiness. That’s a slippery slope for kids.”

[Q: How do we promote an active, healthy lifestyle without applying undue pressure?]
“Don’t talk about it. Just do it. You exercise, go for walks, go on vacations that are fun, help her find things that she loves that are physical, be physical together. Make it fun. And just eat healthfully. Don’t talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more you’re driving it with anxiety. Just practice it. Be it. Live it. Be the model that you want her to be; she’s eleven years old — she knows what you think….”

“So much of our anxieties drives our behavior as parents and the biggest thing to do is to check your own anxiety. Really try not to let your worries trump your common sense.”

“One of the things that you want to talk about with girls that is particularly a challenge for girls is … help them claim the things that they do like about themselves, help them claim their strengths…. Girls are taught that if they like things about themselves that are not body-related… if a girl thinks she’s great at something, the culture starts to say… ‘You’re bossy; you’re stuck-up; you’re a bitch; you’re so full of yourself; who do you think you are?’ And one of the few areas that girls are supported for either putting themselves up or down and looking for validation is their bodies. And the other reality is that it is a form of prejudice and misogyny that girls are so harshly judged by their bodies. I mean, they’re not nuts for being so concerned about it. And you lose ground with an eleven-year-old if you say, ‘Oh, honey, looks don’t matter.’ The challenge… is to help them figure out what’s genetic–what they have leverage with… as an 11-, 12- year-old you have no clue as to what you’re body is going to look like — but, most of all, what matters most to you.

“Help them understand: your body’s changing so much… you know, the average girl gains about 40 pounds between the ages of 8 and 14 and, you know, it’s just such a time of awkwardness. And I would just validate that it’s a time of awkwardness…. ‘Your brain doesn’t stop developing until you’re about the age of 25, sweetie. You’re gonna grow… we have no idea what you’re going to look like. So if there’s stuff you’re unhappy with now, try not to get too stuck on it because it’s gonna change.'”

“And get your pediatrician to normalize [all the change they’re going through.]”

“For the dads: … You want to help them understand that their movement in their physical body, their playing hard, their being full of dirt from going to the beach or whatever, is beautiful to you. You want to normalize and expose the idea that you being physical in your body in the outdoors, messy, to me: gorgeous.”

“Any comment to a child about weight loss should always come from a pediatrician or a nutritionist, not a parent. So go talk to a pediatrician… download all your worries… and if they think there is something medically necessitated, you then deliver that news, you get a good nutritionist. And then you never judge what they’re doing. You talk about their effort to do what the nutritionist said…. But you never want to get into, ‘Don’t eat that. Don’t eat that. Are you sure you want a second helping?’ Much better to not get into that kind of power struggle with your child.”


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