Body Image Workshop Part 7: “What do I do when my child needs to lose weight?”

This question was asked during a dicussion about body image on the Pigtail Pals facebook page.  Marci and I both felt that the answer really needed to be its own post.

The following is by Marci Warhaft-Nadler, of Fit vs Fiction, and it is so thorough I really don’t have anything to add. Just picture my head nodding in agreement as you read. What Marci and I really want you to take away from this is that You can’t lose weight in order to like yourself; you need to like yourself in order to lose weight.

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“What do I do when my child needs to lose weight?”

I get this question a lot.

 Weight is a tough issue for all of us, and when it comes to kids we need to be extremely careful with how we handle it. When a parent asks me what they can say to their child to help them lose weight, my answer is, “NOTHING. Say Nothing.” Research tells us that talking about and focusing on weight with our kids will not have the desired effect we’re looking for and can actually make the situation worse.

While there’s nothing we should be saying to help our kids get healthy, there IS a whole lot we could be doing.

First and foremost, KEEP THINGS POSITIVE and keep the focus on HEALTH instead of WEIGHT. Our goal as parents should be to have healthy kids, not necessarily skinny ones. It’s so important that your child understand that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that they need to be proud of who they are.

Time magazine recently published an article saying,” Losing weight does not help obese girls love themselves.” It explained how overweight children can feel stigmatized by the media and society and how that stigmatization leads to low self-esteem. Being overweight becomes a part of WHO they are. Even if these kids lose the extra weight, the feelings of shame are still there and can last a very long time. That’s why it’s crucial that we teach our kids to tune out negative messages and help them appreciate and respect themselves, as they are. The fact is: You can’t lose weight in order to like yourself; you need to like yourself in order to lose weight. It’s when we like ourselves that we believe we deserve to feel strong and healthy and that will motivate us to eat well and exercise.

1) Make it a family affair:

The last thing you want to do is single out one kid with “special” food or portion sizes at meals. Instead, why not change the way the entire family eats? The goal is to be eating healthier foods in healthier portions and everyone can benefit from that! Remember, you’re not putting your child on a diet, just making some changes as to how and what you all eat.

2) Keep food talk POSITIVE, it’s not about the foods you take out and all about the foods you bring in:

We all get into a sort of comfort zone, where we seem to pick up the same types of food  week after week, so try some different! Try out a new exotic looking fruit you’ve always seen at the store but never thought of actually buying, or maybe buy those Kale chips your friends have been raving about. (That happened to me and they were actually quite tasty!)

3) Menu plan and shop TOGETHER:

Look for new, healthy recipes that you can shop for and cook together. Cooking food from scratch can give your child a new kind of respect for it and pride around it. Feel free to get creative, by coming up with theme nights! How about” Japanese night” or even “Breakfast for dinner”? PJs at the dinner table are a must, for that one. The idea is that eating healthy isn’t a punishment, just one important part of honouring our bodies.

4)  Get active; TOGETHER!

When it comes to weight, we tend to put a lot of focus on the food we’re taking in and not enough on the energy we’re putting out. Exercise has an incredible amount of benefits and will definitely help to keep weight down while building strong bones and muscles. If your child is interested in group activities and sports, SIGN THEM UP! Joining a team, will increase their self-esteem and will make it easier for them to stick with it, since being part of a team means that other people depend on you.

If team sports or sports in general is not your kid’s thing, there are tons of other ways to be active. I personally love to go to the park in my neighbourhood and make up obstacle courses for my kids to do. I’ll say something like,” Run up the slide, do 5 jumping jacks, slide down the other side, run to the bench , step on and off it 5 times, do a crazy dance then run to the basketball net and back!”

Feel free to make comments about how your body FEELS. Instead of saying things like,” Our jeans are going to be so much looser!” Try saying,” Doesn’t it feel great to be using our bodies this way? We’re going to be able to run faster and play longer if we keep this up!”

The key is that they’ll be having too much fun to even realize they’re exercising! An added perk: By coming up with the courses and demonstrating them, you’ll be getting a workout in too!

Another simple idea is to go for a walk after dinner. Instead of turning on the TV and chilling on the couch for the night, go for a walk through your neighbourhood or even drive to a new neighbourhood, and then walk around and explore; the couch will be there when you get back.

5) Support their hobbies:

Is your child an aspiring artist, musician or actor? Take an interest in whatever interests them and be as supportive as you can. When they’re doing something they love and feel a sense of accomplishment from it, there will be less pressure put on what they look like. It’s a great opportunity to build confidence and self-esteem.

6)  Don’t let them see you worry.

If YOU make their weight a big deal, they’ll make their weight a big deal and that won’t help anyone.

7)  Just do what you do best: LOVE YOUR CHILD.

Feeling loved, respected and appreciated by you, will help them learn how to love, respect and appreciate themselves.

*Self-worth should not be measured in pounds!

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Marci Warhaft-Nadler is a certified fitness instructor and body image consultant. After overcoming her own body image and eating disorder issues, Marci created her Fit vs Fiction program to tear down the dangerous myths related to beauty and fitness and empower kids with the self-esteem they need to tune out negative messages and be proud of who they are instead of judging themselves for who they think they’re not. 

Self-worth should not be measured in pounds!

www.fitvsfiction.com

www.fitvsfiction.wordpress.com

Body Image Workshop Part 6: A Few FAQ’s

By: Marci Warhaft-Nadler 

How to talk to your kids about Body Image FAQS

 Body Image and Eating Disorder issues are affecting kids younger and younger these days and while they’re struggling with society’s unrealistic expectations about who they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to look like, their parents are struggling to find the right ways to help them grow into the self-confident, self-assured men and women they deserve to be.

Today we’re hoping to answer some of the questions that we’re hearing most often from moms and dads who know just how delicate a topic this can be.

QUESTION 1)  “I’ve decided to lose weight and get into better shape. How can I make changes to my lifestyle without making my daughter self-conscious about her own body?” -Karen, mom to daughter 13 years old

ANSWER 1)  Deciding to make healthy lifestyle changes is a positive thing and the perfect opportunity to explain to your daughter how important it is to treat our bodies with the kindness and respect they deserve. The MOST important thing is to make the focus on your health and not your weight. Be clear that you are not changing your diet or physical activity in order to fit into a pair of jeans or bikini, but to enhance your quality of life.

As always, keep things positive. Instead of criticizing your body for the faults you may see,  talk about all the things a healthier body will be able to DO. A good way to approach the topic, would be to say, “I’m not feeling as strong and energetic as I’d like to feel, so I’m going to start feeding my body with  foods that are going to give me all the good stuff that it needs and I’m going to start being more active.” Be excited about it.

Never talk about eating LESS. If she notices that you aren’t having seconds and thirds and asks about it, just explain that you are listening to your body and feel like you’ve had enough.

Remember, it’s all about progress, not perfection. If you miss a workout or eat a little more than you planned, do NOT make a big deal about it. Your daughter needs to understand that the goal is not to be “perfect”, just perfectly happy with who you are.

QUESTION 2)   “I just had my second baby and want to lose the extra weight I put on during pregnancy. How can I explain my weight loss to my daughter in a positive way?” – Laura, mom to daughter 7 years old

ANSWER 2)   Much like the previous question, this is a GREAT opportunity to point out how amazing and miraculous our bodies are!  Explain to your daughter that while you were pregnant, your body had a big job to do as it was creating her little brother/sister. While the baby was growing, your body needed to grow to make room for him/her and you needed to eat more to make sure that you had the energy you needed to take care of yourself, the baby and the rest of the family.

Go on to explain that now that the baby’s here, your body still needs a lot of energy but will get that energy in a different way. Avoid saying things like, “I need to get back into shape” , or “I need to lose my belly.” You want her to think of pregnancy as the wonderful experience that it is and not connect it to feeling lousy about yourself.  Explain that while you were pregnant, your body was taking care of the baby from the inside and now that the baby’s here, you’re getting your body ready to take care of the baby from the outside.

Remember: There’s NO RUSH. Take your time. Only “TV moms” give birth one minute and are ready for their itsy bitsy bikinis the very next!

QUESTION 3)  “What if my daughter NEEDS to lose weight, how can I help her without creating body image issues?”   Tali, mom to daughter 11 years old

ANSWER 3)    The very FIRST thing you need to do is MAKE sure she really is overweight. Sadly, our society completely underestimates the size of healthy bodies and all too often, a child will seem overweight because he/she is bigger than her peers, when actually, they are in a perfectly healthy weight range. Go to a doctor you TRUST (without your daughter present) and find out if there really is any reason for concern.

Truth be told, while our children are growing, the last thing we want to do is meddle with the growth process. We talked about this in our article about puberty and it holds true for younger kids as well. Kids’ bodies are constantly changing and the best thing we can do as parents is to make sure that they’re getting healthy food, in healthy portions and being PHYSICALLY ACTIVE.

Do NOT make ANY comments about their weight. It will only hurt, not help. 

Yup, I’m going to say it again, keep the focus off of weight and on health. Talk about how good it feels when we take care of our bodies and get lots of exercise. If you really want to be supportive, make physical activity a family affair, after all, we all need to be fit and strong! Come up with fun things you could do together like going on a hike or riding bikes together after dinner. Make up fun challenges for each other: “I dare you to take the stairs instead of the escalator” or “I dare you to do a silly dance every time a commercial comes on TV”.

Another good idea is to plan meals and grocery shop together sometimes. Creating a meal from scratch can be a fun experience to do together and will help to encourage a healthy, positive relationship with food. You do not want to put your daughter on a diet as diets are based on “DONTS” and all she will think about are the foods she can’t or shouldn’t eat.  Focusing instead on all the great foods she CAN eat, will make it a lot easier for her to maintain the healthy lifestyle you’re creating.

Remember: Healthy kids really do come in all shapes and sizes and it’s important that our kids feel PROUD of who they are and confident in all they can accomplish.  

QUESTION 4)  “My son’s school has started talking about the issue of childhood obesity and will be implementing healthy eating programs. How can I be sure that this will be a positive thing?”  Meredith, mom to son 8  years old               

 ANSWER 4)    GET INVOLVED!   I cannot stress this point enough. I have seen from my own experience at my sons’ school that even the best of intentions where kids and food are concerned can go very wrong. Studies are showing that our society’s focus on child obesity is causing an increase in body preoccupation and eating disorders among boys and girls at the elementary school level. By focusing on fat, we create shame around our bodies and fear around food, exactly what we DON’T want to do. Dr. Leora Pinhas, an eating disorder specialist  at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Ontario says that for some kids, learning about foods in terms of “good” and “bad” can be dangerous and she asks for her kids to be excused from programs like these offered at her school.

Make sure your son’s school has done enough research around the issue to make sure that the message they send is a positive one. ASK questions. Talk to your son about what he is being taught and feel free to speak to his teacher or principal if anything he is learning makes you uncomfortable.

Make sure the kids are getting enough physical activity during the day. Many schools forget that being active is crucial to being healthy and instead puts all their energy towards de-junking their lunch bags.

Remember: No one has the right to judge the way you feed your child.

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And this just in, from our Facebook page:

QUESTION 5:   “I had a third grader tell me today that she gave away most of her lunch because she’s “watching her appetite.” When I asked for more, she told me that another third grader told her she’d get fat if she ate too much. Any advice?” – Susan R

Melissa:   I would emphasize that our bodies need food for fuel in order to work. Ask her what “watching her appetite” means? That she’s on a diet or trying to lose weight? Ask her why she is afraid/concerned about getting “fat”, and what that would mean to her. I would point out that if a human body doesn’t have food and nutrients, it cannot learn, play, fun, etc.
I would also tell her that if her tummy is telling her that her body is hungry, it is more important to listen to her body than to what her friends tell her. Her body intuitively knows what is best for it.

Marci:   Tell her how important it is for us to GROW! Things like Trees, flowers and PEOPLE are supposed to grow and nobody knows what’s best for bodies except us. A strong body is a healthy body and we need to eat to be strong. Ask her if she think.s she’d be a different person if she was bigger or smaller…Would she be nicer? A better friend? Better student? Nope she’d be the same amazing person. Trying to be like someone else is boring and tiring… Its so much more Fun being yourself!

Susan’s Reply:  Thanks! I guess it started when she told her friends that she’d had seconds for supper the night before. Her ‘friend’ said she’d get fat if she ate that much. I will make sure to emphasize in class how wonderful everyone is no matter their shape. She’s easily the tallest girl in my class and is probably growing again! She needs that food!

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With new issues and questions coming up regularly, feel free to bring your body image quandaries our way. This is a weird and wacky world we live in and the best way we can help our kids get through it, is to rely on the support of each other.

 

About Marci Warhaft-Nadler: Marci is a certified fitness instructor and body image consultant. After overcoming her own body image and eating disorder issues, Marci created her Fit vs Fiction program to tear down the dangerous myths related to beauty and fitness and empower kids with the self-esteem they need to tune out negative messages and be proud of who they are instead of judging themselves for who they think they’re not. 

Self-Worth should NOT be measured in pounds!

www.fitvsfiction.com

facebook.com/visitfitvsfiction

fitvsfiction.wordpress.com

marciwarhaft@rogers.com

Body Image Workshop Part 5: A Parent’s Guide to Talking About Body Image – Ages 9-12

by Marci Warhaft-Nadler

Do These Hormones Make Me Look Fat?

Last week, a friend of mine told me that her 8 year old daughter, planted her feet in the ground and shouted, “I don’t want to grow up!” When her mom asked her WHY not, she answered,” I don’t want to grow up because Grownups are FAT and I don’t want to be fat!”

Yikes!  Where do I begin?

In this case, it was easy to figure out where the fear came from, as she comes from a long line of yo-yo dieters  and “fat talk” is commonplace in her household. By seeing the adults in her life focus on body shape and weight, she’s started to develop an unhealthy relationship with food and her body. Sadly, this isn’t unusual, especially at her age.

The tween years are tough; not just for the kids experiencing them, but also for their parents, who are struggling to find ways to make things a little easier for them. Not only are kids this age still dealing with the same pressures from the media, society and peers that have surrounded them up to this point, but now they’ve got the added stress that comes from more homework, possible transition to middle school, exposure to dangerous behaviours, and, probably the scariest challenge of all, PUBERTY!

Puberty generally occurs between the ages of 8-12 and is essentially the time when a young girl’s body prepares itself for womanhood. While many classrooms discuss most of the changes that kids go through during this time, one area that is definitely not talked about enough is puberty-related weight gain.

Weight gain isn’t only to be expected, by is also a NECCESSARY part of the growth process and the last thing we want to do is impede that process in any way, shape or form. Girls should expect to gain weight, especially around their hips and breasts, but too many of them panic at the first sign of their clothes getting tighter.

I recently heard from the mother of a 12 year old girl who was worried about the fact that even though her daughter ate well and was very active, she was noticing some weight gain around her stomach. I reminded her of what she said about her daughter eating well and exercising and assured her that what was happening to her daughter was completely healthy and the worst thing to do would be to say anything to make her self-conscious about it.

You do NOT, I repeat do NOT want to put your child on any kind of diet while they’re bodies are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing or it could result in a skewed metabolism causing a life filled with weight and body image issues. However, it’s the perfect time to talk about healthy lifestyle choices.

Some tips:

1)  As always, the conversation should never be about weight, but should focus on health. It’s a great idea to talk to your child about all the work that their body is doing and how important it is to fuel it with a variety of high quality foods that will help it grow in the strongest, healthiest way possible. Explain that their bones and muscles need physical activity to function properly. Puberty is a very EMOTIONAL time and we want to try and avoid making emotional connections to food for as long as we can.

2)  Make healthy, fun foods available 24/7. Growing kids are hungry kids, by making healthier options easily accessible, you can avoid them filling up on empty calories. For great snack ideas, check out: www.superhealthykids.com

3)  Kids pick up on EVERYTHING, so make sure they hear you compliment people on their actions instead of their looks; this will remind them that what they do is far more important than how they look.

4)  Encourage your kids to find a hobby or several!  Peers play a HUGE role in their lives at this age and bullying becomes more of an issue. It’s crucial that they find extracurricular activities that give them a sense of pride outside of their friendships. Try all types of things; you never know what will be the perfect fit. Kids have so many choices these days, from art classes to soccer to Karate and everything in between!

5)  While sports like dance, gymnastics and figure skating offer a fun way to stay fit, it’s important to understand that activities that promote extreme thinness can create unhealthy body preoccupation.  If your child wants to participate in sports like these, make sure you are comfortable with their coach and that they are on the same page as you as far as healthy bodies go. A good coach won’t pressure your child to lose weight or even mention weight at all.

Keep the lines of communication open between you and your child. Remind them that strong, healthy bodies need to be nurtured not deprived.

The important message here is that puberty is not something negative to be feared, but something positive to be celebrated!

{Melissa adds: I started going through puberty around age 11-12ish, and it was a hard transition to go from a stick-thin kid to a curvy young teen. It helped when my mom showed me photos of her during that time, and I was able to see my body following her genetics. It gave me some perspective that my body looked just the way it was supposed to.}

You can find the entire Body Image Workshop series here.

Feel free to leave a question in the Comments section, or a topic you’d like more information on when it comes to your kids and body image.

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Marci Warhaft-Nadler is a certified fitness instructor and body image consultant. After overcoming her own body image and eating disorder issues, Marci created her Fit vs Fiction program to tear down the dangerous myths related to beauty and fitness and empower kids with the self-esteem they need to tune out negative messages and be proud of who they are instead of judging themselves for who they think they’re not. 

Self-worth should not be measured in pounds!

www.fitvsfiction.com

www.fitvsfiction.wordpress.com

Body Image Workshop Part 4: Are we trying to raise HEALTHY kids or just skinny ones?

By: Marci Warhaft-Nadler, Fit vs Fiction

From Fit vs Fiction

As parents, it is our responsibility to guide our children through life’s many obstacles. We encourage, instruct, advise, and help them make, what we feel, are the “right” decisions in day to day life. We want to give our kids the tools they need for success. However, I strongly believe that when it comes to their bodies and their health, we could actually learn more from them than the other way around.

These days, we hear constant messages about the fact that our kids are apparently eating too much and exercising too little. We’re told that there are more overweight kids than ever and “Junk Food” is killing them slowly. As a result, too many parents have started stressing over every bite of food their child takes and every minute of TV they watch. Interestingly, this type of stress is actually more dangerous than a few Oreos or video games.

Research shows that putting too much of an emphasis on food and weight will not encourage healthy eating but may initiate a preoccupation with body image. In fact, a journal published by the American Academy of  Pediatrics found that “Anti-Obesity campaigns, though positive in intention, may enable unhealthy dieting and compulsive exercise, while breaking down self-esteem by tying self-worth to weight”.

Believe it or not, this is an area where we could learn a lot from our kids. Our bodies are amazing machines that let us know when we’re hungry and when we’re full. Newborn babies, for example, will cry when hungry and stop eating when they’ve had enough. Sadly, at some point we start judging our bodies instead of listening to them and put ourselves on restrictive diets where we eat only as much as we think we “should” eat and only foods we think we “should” eat. This throws our systems completely off track and creates a relationship with food that is less than harmonious.

Kids are different. They haven’t been manipulated by years of diet propaganda and shouldn’t be thinking about calories or fat grams. Is there an insane amount of fast food and candy out there? Of course, but if we demonize certain foods, it creates emotion around them. These sinful foods either become terrifying or even more attractive. Food is food. Some of it nourishes us; some of it just tastes good. None of it needs to be BANNED completely. It’s about balance.

Eating should always be a positive experience. Feel free to introduce new foods to mealtimes, have your kids prepare meals with you, and offer a wide variety of tastes and textures. Truth be told, exposing your kids to food in a healthy way will not make them overweight….but hiding it from them just might.

(Originally posted here.)

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Melissa here!

So how do we strike that balance, enjoy some sweet treat foods while still teaching our kids to eat healthy, and not fat shame or hate how they look? We lead by example. In this article, a statement that three year olds are aware of and conscious of their weight is startling, but doesn’t knock me off my chair in shock. We are a culture obsessed with appearance. Of course our kids, epescially the sponge-like little ones, pick up on that.

What if instead we became a culture obsessed with living life to the fullest, and being grateful for all we have? Now that would be a party.

“We come in a diversity of shapes and sizes. Enjoy your body, enjoy physical movement, eat tasty and good-for-you food and celebrate the fact that you are alive.”

-Amy Farrell, Dickinson College professor and author of “Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture.”

Need more help? I really like and use this website for my family: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/

Body Image Workshop Part 3: A Parent’s Guide To Talking About Body Image – Ages 4-8

Does This Backpack Make Me Look Fat?

by: Marci Warhaft-Nadler and Melissa Atkins Wardy

In 2009, a studydone by the University of Central Florida revealed that nearly half of 3-6 year olds in the study worried about being fat.

Truth be told, we all deal with a certain amount of worry regardless of how old or young we are, but there are certain concerns that just make more sense than others. Having to reassure your child that you’ll be home soon the first time you leave her with a babysitter or spending a few minutes before bedtime clearing her closet of monsters is to be expected, but having to convince your stressed out six year old that her nightgown or snow suit does not, in any way, make her look fat, is not the kind of thing most of us are prepared for.

Research tells us that children have adopted society’s warped view on body shape and size by the time they are five years old. One has to wonder, how society is finding its way into their young psyches so soon? Are the negative messages of self-judgement sneaking through some window we’re inadvertently leaving open or are they blatantly smashing through the front door? I think it’s both.

Some of the messages our kids are getting are loud and clear and therefore easy to spot, but others are way more subtle and even more dangerous because we don’t even see them coming.

For the first few years of our children’s lives, we pretty much control their environment by deciding what they eat, watch, and hear. As our kids grow, their toys and media change, and carry older themes very quickly (The average age a girl receives her first Barbie? Three years old). Once our kids start preschool, they become exposed to all kinds of outside influences (classmates, teachers, other parents or caregivers) and it’s important that we help them be able to process the examples they’re seeing and the lessons they’re being taught.

School and new friends change the scope of our child's environment.

LISTEN and ASK At School:

In Part 1, we talked about what we can do as parents to promote healthy body image at home and today I think it’s important to point out the significant role that teachers play in our child’s esteem while they’re in school.  Recently, a lot of schools have decided to make their schools healthier by implementing rules around what foods kids can and cannot bring for lunch and snacks. School have also decided to tackle the issue of childhood obesity by teaching healthy eating. While intentions are good, often the execution is anything but. I truly believe that our schools want our kids to be healthy, but when it comes to food and weight, we ALL come to the table with preconceived notions about what we should eat and how we should look. It can be hard for kids to think of teachers as “regular” people, opinions can be mistaken for facts, which could prove dangerous.

Parent Tip: 
 a) If you sense a difference in the way your child is thinking about or acting around food, ask questions.  If they suddenly decide to stop eating certain foods, find out why.
b) Talk to their teacher. There’s nothing wrong with asking if there will be any weight or food topics discussed and how they’re planning on handling it. Again, this is an EMOTIONAL issue and it’s important to make sure your kids are getting the information that YOU feel comfortable with.

New Friends:

 It can be exciting and a little scary for kids to make new friends and while we wish every new child they came into contact with was a great influence, we know that not all kids can get along or be friends. Sadly, peer pressure starts very young and it’s possible to feel like you just don’t fit in, before you even know what you’re trying to fit in to!

Preschool and elementary aged kids may also witness or experience the first time someone is made fun of for how they look. Even at just five or six years old, kids can start comparing themselves to their peers.

Recently, the mother of a seven year old girl told me that her daughter came home from school saying that she didn’t want to be that fattest girl in her class anymore. Another mom told me that her six year old son begged her to keep him home from school because he was tired of being the smallest kid in his class.

It is important to teach our children that it is never appropriate to comment or make fun of another person’s body. Especially true for children, as their bodies are still growing and changing. If your child witnesses teasing taking place, teach them how to be a leader, put their arm around the child being teased, and say simply, “Ava, I’m really happy to have you as a fun friend.” Let’s teach our children how to set the example that everyone has worth, and character is more important than looks.

When it is your child being teased, it can be so hard because our first instinct is to protect our babies. Be careful not to teach them how to play the role of the victim. Validate their feelings, and ask questions about how to ignore the situation or make it better (maybe with humor or a statement of self-confidence). Review with your child how the teasers are obviously mistaken because your child has a healthy body that looks just the way it should. Go over the fun and incredible things your child can do with their body.

The hard fact is we have a lot of overweight kids these days. It isn’t right for them to be teased for how they look, but we need to be honest about the state of our health. Maybe there are steps your family can take — with the guidance of your pediatrician — to get your child back into a healthier weight range. Focus on how to make healthy choices around food and exercise, so that playtime is more fun and less of a physical strain. When we love ourselves from the inside out and fuel our bodies with healthy food, we look just the way we should. Healthy bodies can be many different shapes and sizes.

Kids have a very small frame of reference and need to be reminded that they’re not supposed to all look the same!Unfortunately, television doesn’t help, because most of the kids they see are carbon copies of each other.

 Parent Tip:
 Show your kids that people really do come in so many shapes and sizes. An easy thing to do is to take a trip to a mall on the weekend when it’s pretty busy and just people watch for awhile. Point out all the different people that you see remembering to mention that it’s our differences that make us unique and special and that we are all different and unique in our own way.

New friends= New Toys:

It’s easy to decide what we’re going to buy for our kids to play with and what we’d rather leave on the shelves at the toy store, but when the play dates start, that control is lost. To some people, toys are just toys, but many of us know how powerful they can actually be.

We all know that the Barbie doll has been causing some controversy over the last few years, and with good reason. With all the “evolving” she’s supposed to have done, her physical appearance is still unattainable. While the newer Barbie has moved beyond supermodel and beauty queen into careers in business and medicine, they all still have 18 inch waists and live in impossibly high heels. Barbie is considered old school now, as there are many new 12-18 inch dolls on the market perpetuating the “beauty is best” mentality.

study from Pepperdine University gave a group of preschoolers a choice of 2 toys to play with who were identical in every way except for their weight and 9 times out of 10, the girls chose the thinner toys. An upsetting carry over from this preference is that this behavior tends to continue in the playground when choosing friends.

Children's toys with dispproportionate bodies.

How does the Beauty Myth perpetuated by plastic dolls transfer into real life? A 2010

 Boys Toys on Steroids:

 Girls aren’t the only ones who play with dolls, except for boys, they’re called ACTION FIGURES.

I can remember being a little girl and watching my big brother play with his G.I. Joe, his toy being much different than the one for sale today. The original G.I. Joe was created to look like a regular guy who was fit and strong, while today’s version looks better suited to be on stage at a bodybuilding competition. Even our beloved Superman has been given a makeover. Apparently, someone decided that he didn’t look strong enough and gave him insanely exaggerated muscles and an impossibly square jaw.

For a lot of little boys, these dolls, I mean….Action Figures, represent what a hero is supposed to look like. As a result, I have 9 year olds asking me why they don’t have six pack abs or killer bicep muscles! We need to tell our sons that a truly strong man isn’t judged by the strength of his muscles but on the strength of his character.

 Simply put, toys should encourage creativity and imagination, not feelings of inferiority and shame.

Parent Tip:
Start a conversation about the important people in your child’s life; feel free to pull out family photo albums for a visual prompt. Have them talk about the people who make them happy, make them laugh and help them feel good about themselves. Ask your daughters to name the women who they look up to and have her explain what is so special about them. Help her understand that these women are special because of WHO they are and not how they look and they would be just as amazing and loveable if they were taller, shorter, thinner or wider.
 
Same idea for the boys:  Who are the men that your son looks up to? Why does he admire them? Do they make him feel safe and protected? I’m willing to bet that not all, if any, of his male role models possess perfectly chiselled, well sculpted muscles and this will help him understand what true heroes look like. Discuss what kinds of people could be considered superheroes in his community; what types of people really do save lives? Why not take a trip to your local Fire or Police station where he can meet these heroes in person and see how different they look from each other, and as a bonus he’ll get to see some heroic women as well!
 
Now  Switch!
Do the same exercises in reverse. Have your son list the important women in his life and discuss how different they may look from each other and then take your daughter to see meet her local heroes and sheroes.

 

The great thing about really drilling home messages about body image for kids at this age is that they still think their parents are brilliant. That’s only going to last a few more years, so we need to take advantage while we still can.

Our voices matter, our actions matter and our children are listening; let’s make sure we’re proud of what we’re saying.

 We can do this. Together.

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Marci Warhaft-Nadler is a certified fitness instructor and body image consultant. After overcoming her own body image and eating disorder issues, Marci created her Fit vs Fiction program to tear down the dangerous myths related to beauty and fitness and empower kids with the self-esteem they need to tune out negative messages and be proud of who they are instead of judging themselves for who they think they’re not. 

Self-Worth should NOT be measured in pounds!

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