After being asked about my view of positive body image “VS” health last week, I’m reissuing a slightly updated part of my article from July of 2010 in response. This conversation has been around for as long as I’ve been working in this field and certainly came into full view when I was writing my book, Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: Doesn’t positive body image mean that we are promoting obesity? I welcome the dialogue. It gets us all clear about what our individual views are, where our views converge, how we can work together, and ultimately, how we can help all girls and women thrive in a world that often tells them they aren’t good enough, thin enough, or pretty enough the way they are.
“Am I so contrarian to say that I actually want young people to be happy with themselves and all they have to offer no matter what size they are? Am I abandoning my post as a body image expert if I, at the same time, would love for everyone to fill their bodies with delicious, healthy foods that nourish them, find ways to move and exercise their bodies that thrill them, get a good night’s sleep, and laugh, think, grow, learn and teach? I don’t think so…If you are doing these things, wherever your body falls, is where it should be. And that’s that.”
What would you say, if someone said to you, “Aren’t YOU promoting obesity in young people by telling them they should be happy with themselves?”
Come on. You know this is the question out there. Positive body image OR health? Make the choice.
It’s amazing to me that we need to pick one or the other. This “war on obesity” is making us choose sides. Are you “for” kids being healthy OR are you “for” kids being unhealthy, lethargic sloths who are going to die any minute? Ahhh…a bountiful selection. What to choose…What to choose??? Ugh.
This type of commentary sends a clear message to our young people;
- Fat is bad and thin is good.
- Fat means you are ugly, gross, blameworthy, unhealthy, disgusting, and worthless.
- Thin means you are beautiful, controlled, healthy, and worthy.
- If you gain weight, you are going towards fat. Fat is bad. You are bad.
- If you lose weight, you are going towards thin. Thin is good. You are good.
- The more weight you lose, the thinner you’ll be, the better you’ll be.
- You can only be happy, healthy, and positively regarded if you are thin.
- All assessments of your work and who you are, are based, in part, on your weight.
It simply can’t be about “fat,” as I say in an article from last summer:
“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?
People go through the numbers in their heads. Everywhere. They strive for zero because anything else is just so awful. I see it at the gym as people step on the scales in the locker rooms. Gosh, I wish people wouldn’t do that. I hear them mutter under their breaths or announce to their friends that exercising was not working. There is no talk of exercise being good for their internal health just not providing them with the external appearance that would make it all worth it. Is this the message we want to send?
Oh, and clothing stores. I’ve started to take the clothes I want to try on to the teen departments just so I can stand in the dressing rooms and here what’s going on in there. “Ick, I’m so fat….I hate my butt…I hate my belly…I hate myself.” Watching a teenager struggle with the size in of her clothes as they increase, because, well, teenagers are SUPPOSED to grow, is excruciating.
And how many times have I heard people point out that others look “so good” BECAUSE they “lost weight.” How many times are people picked apart, body cut from head, to point a blaming, shaming, maiming, finger at anyone who’s body deviates from the ideal? No wonder so many people suffer from poor body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Is this really healthy?
Our young people have so much to offer. No, wait. Every woman– every person has so much to offer. Can we remember that? They can think, do and create so much. And yet, we fill their minds with so much crap, that their self regard plummets even as they excel. They are gifted students, volunteers, athletes, actors, tech whizzes and leaders and yet, these assets can be over-shadowed by what they weigh. Many of them stop striving. Stop thriving. I mean, if weight is all there is, why bother? What a travesty.
I choose to imagine how things could be different.
Am I so contrarian to say that I actually want young people to be happy with themselves and all they have to offer no matter what size they are? Am I abandoning my post as a body image expert if I, at the same time, would love for everyone to fill their bodies with delicious, healthy foods that nourish them, find ways to move and exercise their bodies that thrill them, get a good night’s sleep, and laugh, think, grow, learn and teach? I don’t think so.
Self worth, appreciation and social regard should not contingent on what people weigh. Thin, plus size, and everyone on the continuum—EVERYONE deserves to be happy with who they are. I think we’d have a lot fewer problems if everyone waging wars could just agree on that one simple principal.
But I’m just one person. What do YOU think?
Note: Some other blogs that talk about body image, eating disorders and media
(And many more! Huge list will be revealed in my book!)
The War on Obesity: Positive Body Image vs. Health? is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman – Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System