As the father of 3 daughters (2 teens & a 9 year old), I am concerned about their own self-perception. I want them to be comfortable in their own bodies and minds. I have tried many things to help them have a healthy body image but every now and then my efforts were still foiled.
Early on, I had tried to avoid any conversations around body image thinking that if I didn’t make a big deal out of it, then it would never enter their minds that it should be a concern of theirs. I realized that was foolish. Avoiding the issue altogether just allows others to introduce it in their own way which could be more damaging than if I had obsessed on it.
So, I tried to help my daughters know what a healthy body is. The schools have been doing a great job of educating on healthy eating habits as they introduce the new “ChooseMyPlate” program introduced by the US Dept of Agriculture. I have done my part by helping them understand when they are making poor food choices that don’t support their bodies’ growth. Still, I avoided the topic of weight since I figured a healthy body would naturally have a healthy weight.
Wow! Was I blindsided when my Emma called me at work because she had been obsessing over her body weight and had been skipping meals to bring her weight down. What makes this a little more surreal for me was the fact that Emma only weighed 104 pounds. She was skinny by many standards but in her head she was overweight. She had somehow gotten in her mind that 100 pounds was the most she wanted to weigh and when she crossed that triple digit threshold, she had crossed over into ‘overweight’ territory.
How do our kids get these ideas into their heads? Do I blame the media? They are one of my favorite bad influence targets – but no. Do I blame their friends & influences? Again, no. Who do I blame?
It turns out in this case, no one was to blame. Emma had an arbitrary number in her head about how much she should weigh. This number wasn’t based on any data or input from anywhere other than her own thinking. How do I prevent the random, arbitrary thoughts of my teenage daughter from causing her to develop body image issues?
Since I found out she was having this problem, we have had a lot more conversations around weight, proper diet, and support for a growing body. We certainly allow for plenty of bad foods but we stress making sure we are supporting our bodies with nutritious food as well. She feels comfortable coming to me or my wife with any about her body and it seems like she does.
Check out our podcast episode on Body Image to hear Emma’s story about her thought process and how she turned around that thinking to a healthier body image.