Body Image Workshop: Part 1

Today begins a new series on our blog: The Body Image Workshop.

Last month I had a little piece of my heart break when I received two emails in the same day, one from the mom of a preschooler who had already developed body image issues, and the other from a pregnant mom, scared for her unborn daughter’s future body image issues. My head was spinning. Both moms needed info and resources and I sent some their way, but I had a hard time putting my head around the fear of an unborn girl’s body image. I had a hard time putting my head around why that is such a legitimate fear. Because it is.

I called my friend and colleague Marci Warhaft-Nadler, a certified fitness instructor and body image consultant, and asked if she would help me. I needed someone who would help me dig deep, really push the issue, unpack the numbers, and get underneath this massive rock of body image that sits on top of our daughters. Marci and I are both raising sons, and boys will be included in this series as well. But when you look at the numbers that reflect what is going on in with our girls, it is enough to make you want to scream. Or cry. Or both.

We MUST create a meaningful change. And we must do it now.

Hopefully this isn’t affecting your family, these posts will get low viewership, and Marci and I can focus our efforts elsewhere. Something tells me that is not going to be the case.

Marci and I care deeply about all of our kids. We’re going to be honest. We’re going to really dig into this issue. We’re not going to pull our punches. We’re going to give you the tools and resources you need. We might say things that sting, we might say things you disagree with. We’re going to pull in medical and nutrion experts. We’ll talk to authors and psychologists. We’re going to give you printouts and talking points. Not generics, but specific go-try-this-today info. We’re going to give you the chance to be the expert bloggers and give us tips on what you do in your homes. We’re going to give you the chance to ask questions and talk to experts directly. For free.

You have no idea how much energy Marci and I have on this subject. We’re going to get this thing done. And we’re going to do it right here.


Buckle up, here comes Part 1: A Parent’s Guide To Talking About Body Image – Age 0-3

by: Marci Warhaft-Nadler

The facts are beyond disturbing.

Recent studies show that boys and girls as young as 5-years-old are struggling with body image. Day after day, they are bombarded with messages from the media, society, peers as well as a number of other sources, telling them that they aren’t good enough, smart enough, attractive enough and certainly not THIN enough. As a result, more and more kids are putting their health and lives at risk by engaging in dangerous behaviors to attain what they THINK is the ideal physique.

The scary truth:

80% of 10 year olds HATE their bodies

25% of 7 year olds have already tried dieting

Eating Disorders in kids under 12 years old rose 119% over the last 9 years

42% of 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders want to be thinner by the time a girl is 17 years old, she’s seen approximately 250, 00o messages from the media telling her what she’s supposed to look like.

Gaining weight is the #1 FEAR of teenage girls, over losing their parents or getting cancer.

In 1970, the average age a woman started dieting was 14 years old, by 1990 the average age was 8 years old.

As parents, we want to protect our children from the superficial and often judgemental world that awaits them, but it’s a task that can feel somewhat overwhelming. Here’s the good news: There is A LOT we can do, starting from the minute we bring our babies home, to empower them with strong, healthy self-esteem and to help them grow up with the self-confidence they deserve.

How do we get started?

0-3 years old:

When our kids are this young, we are pretty much in control of their environment. We control what they see and hear, and this definitely works to our advantage. Here are a few suggestions to help create the kind of environment that will help our kids grow up loving who they are, instead of judging who they think they’re not:


I cannot say this strongly enough. Little girls learn SO MUCH about how to treat themselves by watching their moms (and sisters and grandmas and aunts). It is crucial that daughters see their mothers being kind and accepting of themselves. This can take work, because it’s become almost second nature to criticize our jiggly arms or round tummies and we don’t realize that these seemingly harmless comments are anything but harmless. As silly as it may feel sometimes, make a point of complimenting yourself, out loud, on a daily basis. Challenge yourself to do so in creative ways. For example: Feel free to look in the mirror and proudly say, “I LOVE my arms because I use them to lift and hug my baby, to roll out cookie dough and maybe even do a few push ups!” and, “I LOVE my thighs because I use them to dance with my baby and walk through the park!”

{Melissa adds: Say to baby:  “Oh! Look at your strong legs climb the steps!”  or “Let’s wash those busy arms and feet!”  or “Does it feel good to have a tummy full of healthy food?”  or  “Big girl! Look how much you’ve grown since Christmas!”   or  “Can your strong arms help me clean up the toys/rake the leaves/walk the dog?”.  Your little ones won’t understand the concept of ‘healthy food’ or how much time has passed since Christmas, but they will understand your tone of voice and attitude as you set a framework for how your family will view body image.}

By doing this, your daughter will grow up loving her body for what it can DO, not judging it for how it looks.

The BEST part of this exercise, is that by committing to just a few seconds of self-appreciation every day, you’ll see your OWN self-esteem increase as well!


2) IMAGE-PROOF your home

We’ve all heard of Baby-proofing our homes, the act of removing any potential dangers our babies may come into contact with; we plug electrical outlets, soften sharp table edges and lock cupboard doors. Well, now we can also Image-Proof our homes by clearing out the negative messages and replacing them with positive ones. It’s a pretty simple exercise actually, just look around your house for magazines, books, posters or anything that promotes the unrealistic images of beauty that surround us today. Even though, kids this young aren’t reading yet, they are soaking in everything they see around them and we need to make sure that what they see is helpful and not harmful.

Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting that we can put blinders on our kids and keep them from ever seeing the evils of the beauty obsessed world we live in; but the fact is, if we can show our kids examples of beauty in all shapes, sizes and forms from the time that they are very little, they will be better armed to deal with the superficial and critical messages that start coming their way as they get older. A big part of the body image problem, is that kids see impossibly perfect models on TV and in magazines and then compare themselves to these images and walk  away feeling inadequate, like they just don’t measure up. However, if they have already seen beauty in a variety of forms, it will be easier to understand that the problems aren’t with their own bodies, but with the ones they are seeing on TV.

{Melissa adds: Use family photos of past and present to decorate your home…like where that stack of fashion magazines used to be. Teach your children that beauty is passed down through families, not by marketers and Photoshop.}

3) Make your home FAT TALK – FREE

We already know how important it is to avoid criticizing ourselves in front of our kids, but we need to extend that to guests in our homes as well. Kids hear everything, they take it in, process it and then, oftentimes, repeat it. Make sure that people who visit your home understand that any kind of fat or diet talk is not appreciated. It sounds strange, but there are a lot of people, who can’t go one full day without mentioning the calorie content of something they’ve eaten or making reference to their desire to lose weight.

{Melissa adds: The number one offender that I hear about all of the time is Grandma. We’ll have a post on this coming up.}

Remember, our  focus should be on function over esthetics. We need to teach our kids to love WHO they are, because if they grow up liking and respecting themselves, they will make better choices in all aspects of their lives.

The negative messages our children get from the media and society are strong, but that just means that our positive messages as parents, have to be even STRONGER.

Self-Worth should not be measured in pounds!


Melissa here: See? That was easy and painless. Three sure-fire steps you can take with your itty bitty to get your family started on the right foot. Are your kids older? Still works! And? You can start doing this today. Right now! Go! Go pitch that Victoria Secret catalog and Vogue. Chuck it. Go find a photo of your grandma when she was 24. She was gorgeous. Your daughter has her eyes. Focus on that. Define beauty for yourself.

We can do this. Together.


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!


Real Life Girls take on Real Life Barbie

As we look more this week into body image and the young child, I really want parents to start thinking about what their children, but specifically their girls, are exposed to in terms of toys, stories, and media that might shape the way a child perceives their body should look. We’re seeing startling statistics about childhood obesity and childhood eating disorders, and I’m left scratching my head how we got here. How does an 8 year old become anorexic? Why are 81% of fourth graders afraid of getting fat? Why am I struggling to find words for parents who email me, distraught their 5 or 6yo girl has expressed not liking herself because she feels she is fat?

Just over a month ago the hot topic of conversation was the Life Size Barbie constructed by college student Galia Slayen. Galia had battled her own eating disorder, and now with clear heart and eyes she shows us Barbie in a whole new way:

Real Barbie scares me. Real Galia is beautiful.

The media hub was “Does Barbie Cause Eating Disorders” and more inanity meant to scare parents, but not really educate them. I’m no expert on Eating Disorders, and in fact, I don’t completely understand them. There are many things that need to be present for an Eating Disorder to manifest itself in a person. Barbie alone is not responsible…..Genetic, environmental, and psychological factorsall play into manifestation, though Barbie doesn’t get off scot-free as she is definitely a trigger.

Barbie remains uninvited to my home to play. Why? Because I respect my daughter and her girlhood, and do not want it tainted with toxic messages of vapid beauty, consumerism, and age-inappropriate sexiness. I think the messages we give our children in their early years lay groundwork for who we want them to become. I’ve never heard anyone directly connect their Eating Disorder to playing with Barbie. Then again, I’ve never heard anyone direclty connect their life-long religion to the bedtime prayers they said as a child. Groundwork – for a lifetime. Think about it.

I thought Galia’s project and her story are fantastic, and I really admire her. You who else I think is particularly clever? The three daughters of Dr. Jen Shewmaker, a professor from Texas who writes on sexualization and media. I asked her to get the opinions of her daughters on Galia’s Life Size Barbie. Jen points out the developmental differences in how they look at this is interesting. Proof in the pudding you can raise resilient and critically thinking girls inside this Cult of Thinness we live in:

“I like the real life Barbie because her chest is so big and she is tall and skinny and funny!!!!! And she is also funny because it is weird compared to the small Barbies. I like it. I think it shows that real people can’t look like Barbie. It is funny!!!!!!!!!!!”  -Allie 6 years old

Today I was looking at my real Barbie and her waist. I started thinking about the “Real Life” Barbie. I had never really realized how small her waist was and how big her chest was compared to the rest of her body. I was thinking, that’s not really realistic. The “Real Life” Barbie looks weird. I wouldn’t want to look like that. The real girl standing beside her looks a lot better than she does.”     -Catherine, 9 years old

“Wow. It’s sad that little girls look at their Barbies and think something like “I wish I could look as pretty as her”, while if she were real, Barbie would be crawling around on her hands and knees.  It’s like poison to their minds, and even at the age of 3, 4, or 5 they start believing they’re not good enough.”    -Rylan, 11

See what I mean? Those girls are clever! So what does your daughter have to say about this? Do you have a Barbie at home that you can compare with Galia’s Barbie? Have you started talking to your daughter about this? By the way, age 2 or 3 is a good time to start.

If your daughter is old enough to have a conversation like the one Jen did with girl wonder super stars Allie, Catherine, and Rylan….let us know what she said! This group isn’t going to change our culture of how it views women, thinness, and beauty, but we CAN change the way we take all of that in and how it affects us. And we can give that gift to our daughters.

(Psst — you can also have this convo with your boys. I don’t want your son being disappointed my daughter doens’t look like Barbie when they get crushes on each other in sixth grade.)

Take Up Space

Billboard for a Madison WI chocolatier.

My friend sent me this photo, snapped at a busy Madison, Wisconsin intersection.

What horseshit.
I’d like to have a little coversation with this local business and call out their craptastic advertising.
I’d tell them that women do not need permission to be fat, get fat, unfat, or fatty fat fat.
I’d tell them that a woman’s worth is not based on her size, but rather on the content of her character.
I’d tell them that sizeist and belittling advertising slogans are disrespectful to the women they intend to demean and intimidate.
I’d tell them that women do not need permission to take up space in this world.
And then I’d tell them their billboard is horseshit.
It ran over Valentine’s Day. On Valentine’s Day, it is custom for men to give women chocolate. This billbaord is aimed at women, telling them that when their man gifts them expensive chocolate, she has permission to eat the chocolate. She has permission to gain weight from the chocolate because her man will still love her, so all will be right in her world. Were she to become fat, she would not lose her man’s love and therefore maintain her worthiness. As if.
I don’t ask my husband’s permission to eat food. Then again, I didn’t ask his permission to fly to Africa or start a business, either.
Why is it, that women are so brow beaten by advertisers? And why do so so so many of us buy into all of the asshattery? As Tracee Sioux asks, why is it so hard to like our bodies?

We’re the beautiful half of the species. For God’s sake, our male counterparts are bald or balding, grow hair in their ears, out their noses, on their shoulders, asses, bellies and backs, they’re smelly, beer bellied and have sweaty, stinky balls hanging off their ape-like bodies. And they feel F*$%@^& GREAT about themselves. That just doesn’t add up.  -Tracee Sioux

Ladies — Come. On.

We give our power away when we allow others to tell us how to feel about our bodies. OUR bodies. Our freaking amazing, sexy, curvy, soft, creative, nice smelling, intelligent, nurturing, life giving bodies.

You have got to be kidding me that so many women feel crappy about themselves because they don’t look like starved models or computer altered humans that have been Photoshopped out the wazoo.

Do you know what this mess is doing to our daughters?? We lead the world in Eating Disorders, disordered eating, and low self-esteem because of body image.

If we have billboards for women that dissect their weight, why is there NOT a billboard for condoms with the slogan “I’ll always love you, even though your penis is meh.” Why are we always focused on women’s bodies, and guys get a free pass to look like whatever they want? Why do we care so much and guys care so little?

WHY do women allow themselves to be put down upon and controlled and manipulated into thinking our gorgeous bodies aren’t the most amazing things on earth?

I don’t care whether or not the chocolate or the man or society will still love me….


I love me. I love that my body has traveled all over the world. I’ve used my body in great adventures like bungee jumping and scuba diving and hiking the waterfalls of Hawaii. My body created two perfect human beings from scratch, and then birthed them. The second time around was a no bullshitter. But my body did it.

Listen – I get the longing to be pretty and feel attractive and desired and so on. BUT – who says you aren’t? Who says? You say? Sister, start singing yourself another tune.

Who do you allow to define and determine your beauty?

Your beauty is not your worth.

Shut up about being fat. Being skinny. Losing weight. Gaining weight.

Seriously shut up about tummy tucks, especially in front of the kids.

Get smart that 99.9% of photos you see in the media have been retouched and perfected by some guy and a computer.

Really? You’ve got stretch marks or gray hair or heavy thighs? Are you kidding me? That is your body, your house for life. Embrace it.

Honey, I love you, but get bigger things to think about in life. I do 136 things every day before I have time to think about what I look like. Step away from the mirror, put your hand on your belly, your center, close your eyes, and allow yourself to feel beautiful.

I define my beauty. I know my worth. I stand fully in my body because I love it. And I don’t look twice at magazine photos or models. That fake crap doesn’t come close to being as gorgeous as me.

Photoshop can suck it. Sizeist messages that promote the thin ideal can get lost. Women can start to be kinder to each other and offer each other more grace.

C’mon Ladies. Let’s face it. We’re the beautiful ones. We make the rules.