Why Are Eight Year Olds Worried About Their Weight???
Her comment left me floundering for words and quite honestly broke my heart.
A recent road trip with a friend gave me the opportunity to spend more time with her delightful eight- year-old daughter.
Jennifer is frighteningly bright and mature, bubbly, energetic, and absolutely adorable.
Yet, as she was telling me about her friends, she told me that some of them didn’t like her.
One of them had told her she was fat. Another’s mother, obsessive about being thin, apparently told her daughter if she didn’t eat properly she would end up looking like Jennifer.
Even if it were true, the comments were unbelievably cruel. But the truth is, Jennifer is no where near fat.
She’s perfect - sturdy, strong, and healthy.
Her parents adore her and make sure she eats well-balanced meals and incorporates active living into her life. Most importantly, they provide loving, unconditional support.
And yet, even at the age of eight, Jennifer is starting to think she’s fat and has begun to question her body image.
During the exchange, I tried not to look shocked, all the while thinking, “What on earth has happened that the happy and carefree childhood of eight-year-olds is being replaced by worry about weight?”
Many blame it on the media as many of today’s advertisers reflect a belief that they can sell more products if they convince females that their bodies are never good enough. With few exceptions, female models are tall, thin, white and perfect.
The overwhelming media message that bombards today’s little girls, and women in general, is that if you try hard enough, spend enough and suffer enough, you will get the body that will bring you success and happiness.
And of course, we all know that simply isn’t true.
First of all the media presents “flawless” bodies that are enhanced with lighting, props and computer manipulations.
Blemishes, freckles, lines, and puffiness are all edited away. Even body doubles are common in movies and television when an actor’s body parts don’t measure up.
Today, too many young women aspiring for the perfect body are literally starving themselves, over-exercising, risking damage to their body with steroids and having risky plastic surgery.
Despite this being an era of incredible opportunities for personal and career happiness for females, worries about appearance and weight and a lack of esteem puts too many adolescent girls at risk of eating disorders, depression and drug, alcohol or sexual abuse.
So how do we counteract the power of the media and ensure our daughters, sisters, granddaughters, nieces and young friends grow up feeling good about themselves and their bodies?
How do we help our little girls to dream and succeed?
Just as Jennifer’s parents are doing, girls need to be taught to love their bodies regardless of their body type. In addition to teaching them to love themselves, they need to appreciate all their body does for them - running, dancing, laughing, breathing.
We can also reinforce that bodies come in different shapes, sizes and colours, are influenced by family genetics, there is no wrong or right, and a girl’s body is uniquely hers.
Rather than focusing on fashion trends, we can teach our girls to wear comfortable clothes that make them feel good about themselves. Regardless of a girl’s body shape, she should be taught to like and respect her body the way it is built, and make the most of what she has - not what the media dictates.
To shift focus away from body image, we can encourage little girls to think about what they’re good at, hobbies they have or would like to have, or what they want to be when they grow up.
Trying a new sport or recreation activity, or encouraging volunteering are other good strategies.
By helping girls set goals and supporting them in their achievement, we can help them feel good about themselves and improve their self-esteem.
But perhaps just as important are the behaviours we model as adults. Little girls (and little boys) need our smiles, our hugs, our eye contact and our focus. We need to listen, really listen, conveying warmth, acceptance, encouragement and authentic praise.
None of this means we want to keep them in an unrealistic bubble so it also means ensuring we give them responsibility, teach them to respect others and practise non-judgmental attitudes. As much as we can, we also need to seek and expose little girls to media that recognizes women have more to think about then makeup, hair and losing weight.
If you see media that you feel is unacceptable, don’t hesitate to lodge a complaint with Advertising Standards Canada at www.adstandards.com.
Ultimately, all of us have a responsibility to ensure little girls like Jennifer remain focused on who they are, and not how they look.Posted on 08-27-07
A horrible thought that children of this age are worrying about something they should have no real knowledge about. I recently starting blogging about weight loss due to my own attempts to shed the pounds but not once did I think about youngsters feeling this way.
Great thought provoking article, keep it up,
I agree with you that women should focus more on who they are than on how they look, but unfortunately for many of us the two are closely related. For me, actually, my caring about my appearance led me to learn more and more about health and fitness which I believe has affected my thinking and mood as well. I really think the two are interrelated and we should not attempt to separate self image from our body image.•Posted by Emily on 03/17/14 at 10:27 AM
I guess it is important to explain to a child that things are different from each people’s perspective and beliefs. You just have to assure your child that the love you have for them will never change and that they should learn to appreciate what they have. This is indeed a great post. Thanks for sharing.•Posted by Miranda Smith on 06/02/14 at 04:45 AM
When I was 8 years old, I did not think anything about being fat or skinny. I didn’t even know what pretty or ugly is. Children now are more mature than before, also, because the environment and some adults’ influence. Sorry to know that Jennifer has noticed about that at her current age. It’s awful that her friends’ mother use Jennifer as an example to show her daughter to eat properly, she shouldn’t use anyone either. Not a good behavior as a parent.•Posted by Sandra on 06/09/14 at 03:56 AM
It is tragic that this is how our society and culture has evolved. Even worse, I believe a lot of this image of what a girl should look like is forced upon society through all the marketing campaigns of these large corporations. It causes so much damage to these girl’s self esteems and all for the sake of financial gain. I agree with you Brenda that a great way to counteract this issue is to help these girls set goals and celebrate their achievements. Its very important to reinforce their self worth.•Posted by Cara Gilmore on 07/23/14 at 10:44 AM
Next entry: Changing Social Values
Previous entry: Leaving Welland