What’s going on with girls and body image? A fifth of teen girls in Britain admit that they “can’t bare to look at themselves in the mirror” according to a new survey of 1000 girls between the ages of 12 and 18 years. Two-thirds want to lose weight and 63% feel that they are under pressure to change their appearance in some way. Yes, it’s safe to say that the body image of girls is certainly suffering.
We hear these types of statistics often and yet still question what we should do. Caught between the pressure of the “obesity epidemic,” I am often faced with the question, “but how can we NOT say something?”
It’s important to realize that this really isn’t about fat at all. Or it shouldn’t be. We want our girls (and boys) to eat in a healthy way that makes them feel powerful, strong, focused, and energetic. We are not trying to get them to eat in a way that makes them feel…thin.
We want our children to be active in a way that gives them joy, allows them to be healthy enough to do other things they love, and teaches them that it is invigorating, fun and energizing to move our bodies. NOT to get them to be thin. We are also NOT directing this way of eating and being active to “those who need to lose weight.” We are directing it to everyone—everyone, regardless of size or weight, deserve to treat their bodies well, eat in a balance way, and feel the pleasure of running, jumping, dancing, swimming or whatever else they like to do.
I’ve been interviewed on this a lot since my body image book, Good Girls Don’t Get Fat came out October 1st and the “weight obsession” video came out a week after that. When they question me about the weight or size issue, I tell them “If we make eating and being active about weight and size, are we saying that it’s OK for a girl who is a size 2 to eat cheese doodles for breakfast and nothing else for the rest of the day each day because she is thin? When we make it about weight and size, some very unhealthy things can happen. When we make it about how we treat our bodies and how we feel, we send a different message. At the end of the day, if a girl, size 12, 14, or 16, eats well and stays active and is running circles around a girl who is a size 2, do we really care that she’s a size 16?
What message do we really want to send? “Honey, I know you eat a balanced diet and you are active everyday in sports, but you need to lose weight.” Does that tell our girls that they actually need to eat in an unhealthy way (diet) and over-exercise to be a certain size? We need to be very careful and clarify what we really are trying to say here.
As this is “Fat Talk Free Week” by Tri-Delta (They will be featuring a blog article from me this week on their own site), let’s stop making things about weight and size. Let’s embrace our girls (and boys) exactly as they are and help them recognize their gifts. And let’s remind them, we recognize and value those gifts as well and want to help them in any way get them out to the world.