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Friday, January 20, 2006

Body Image: Helping the Next Generation

MG 4441-2
Originally uploaded by arenalabs.
One of the biggest mental struggles we have, before and after WLS, is body image. It's not uncommon for a person to reach goal weight with WLS and upon receiving a compliment they say back, "Yeah, but my [fill in blank] is a real mess, ugly, still fat" etc. Have you heard yourself respond that way to a compliment? It is a painful challenge to nurture a healthy body image because often a negative body image originates in childhood.

I recently learned of a 9-year-old girl who refuses to wear her coat this winter. Why? "It makes me look fat." She is not alone. According to Linda Smolak a psychologist and Kenyon College 40% of elementary school girls and 25% of elementary school boys report dissatisfaction with their bodies. Dr. Smolak said, "These unhappy and self-conscious kids report more frequent feelings of depression, insecurity and anxiety."

That describes how I often felt as an overweight child and teen. Can you relate?

It occurred to me that while I work on my body issues (and yes, there are many, just ask Hillary!) perhaps it would be a valuable time to actively engage in encouraging the young people I know to accept their bodies. Perhaps if I modeled positive habits for them they may be spared years of torment and insecurity.

Prevention Magazine suggests these ways to instill a healthy body image in children:

Uncover media myths:
Media images present an unrealistic message about what is beautiful and desirable. Adults should look for opportunities to explain that ultra thin young actresses or super muscular athletes are not realistic for most of us. Focus on healthy eating and active living.

Give Alternatives:
When hearing children criticize someone's body as fat adults should respond by explaining that although overweight can be unhealthy "dieting" usually isn't the solution. A solution to build a healthy body is eating nutritious foods and being physically active each day.

Listen to yourself:
It has been said children learn not from what you say but what you do. Listen to yourself - are you saying "I look fat today" or "My thighs are enormous" or "Look at this ugly excess skin"? Children have observed our weight loss, probably with great curiosity. If we can learn to say, "Wow! I love the power of my healthy weight body" or "This healthy dinner was just the ticket to boost my energy" then we are sending a positive message. Healthy bodies are good. Rather than focus on the flaws we are celebrating good health. And so may our children.

Wouldn't it be awesome if we became the last generation of self-loathing people? We can do it, one child at a time.

Have a great weekend everyone!


Anonymous said...

what I hate is that since surgery, I find myself more critical of the weight I still have to lose than I was of the weight that inspired the decision!

Julie said...

I used to feel the same way - about everything. Never satisfied. I took Oprah's advice several years ago and started a "gratitude journal"... it has helped me re-train my thoughts and attitude. I have more inner peace - even with the things I'm still working on. It's a gift to myself to remind me about the things I'm grateful for. Grateful for success in weight loss. Grateful for a loving husband. Grateful we have enough money to pay bills so I can stay home with my babies, etc. Give it a try - at least for a week. Watch yourself change. And watch your family respond in a positive way also. Good luck.