“Mommy, a girl told me that my shoes stink.”
I heard this statement from my six-year-old daughter this morning. The shoes she was referring to were her new Timberland boots that she begged for, even offered to pay for them with her savings. We had spent part of our ‘staycation’ buying shoes. She strutted out of Footlocker onto Queen Street West in her cool Timberlands. She was thrilled to learn ‘the gangster walk’ from her 13-year-old brother. She felt good, really good.
Ella, my daughter, told me that the strangest part of the school yard incident was that this other girl was not even playing with her. She walked up to Ella, looked down at her feet, and insulted her. She didn’t notice Ella the person, didn’t look into her eyes. She just judged how she looked. She continued to tell me that so many girls in her class wear black plastic high heels to school on Fridays. I asked her what she thought about that. She replied, “That’s silly. You can’t run in those.”
In a recent elementary school teachers’ training at my children’s school, I spoke about creating a school environment that promotes healthy body image and eating. I was heartened by the reception of the staff. The committed, loving teachers shared alarming stories about some young children who are showing signs of poor body image already. My child’s shoes were insulted. Other children’s bodies were criticized. It is no wonder that children are noticing how they look in the eyes of others. This is reflective of the Laura Hart’s recent research (2014) that indicates that 40-50% of children 6-12 years old are unhappy with their bodies. Preschoolers are already internalizing body size stereotypes: fat is bad, thin is good. I didn’t realize until this morning that my child could be one of those horrifying statistics.
Body image reflects how children are thinking and feeling towards their bodies, rather than how they actually look. That’s a powerful concept. And how does that affect a child? We can assume instinctively that she (or he) would feel worse if she had a negative attitude towards her body. But in addition to low self-esteem (and increased risk for depression), body dissatisfaction affects physical health. If you feel worse about your body, you eat less fruit and vegetables and do less exercise. And it gets worse… poor body image has an alarming impact on academic success. 60% of girls do not participate in activities because they feel that they don’t look good. That includes classroom debate or even showing up at school. It is no wonder that the Delphi study found that poor body image was associated with lower grades in countries such as UK, USA, Finland, China and Australia.
We need to create a strong alternate culture around our children. One in which diversity and difference is truly valued. We need to be mindful about what we’re valuing in our children. Are we teaching them to value how their bodies look over what they’re doing with them? Are we commenting on how their bodies make it possible to do acts of kindness, for thinking, for helping make this world a better place? We need to challenge what and how we talk about looks, food and eating with children so that they love and respect their bodies. That’s what I call Connected Eating – eating from a place of responsibility, self-love and care.
The Connected Eating Program helps parents feed their children in a weight obsessed world AND empowers children to eat well from a place of self-love, nutrition knowledge and intuition.
The program is for small groups 4-10 children and their parents in an intimate setting: your home (or mine) for 2 workshops: one for parents and the other for kids. To learn more, please see the Connected Eating Tab on my website :http://susanosher.com/connected-eating/
In the next few weeks, I will be continuing this conversation. Some of the topics I will cover are:
- Role Modeling for our children: The dangers of ‘Fat Talk’ and awareness of how our attitudes may be affecting them
- Building self-esteem in your children
- How to inspire your child from a place of self-care
- What is Normal Eating?
- Why Junk Food is important
I would love to answer your questions or concerns… Please leave me a comment below so that I can!