What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys
The What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls
MIRROR ON THE WALL:
Reflections on Preteen Body Image
by Christine Ratliff
real beauty?" I used to ask my little girl. "In here,"
she'd respond knowingly, placing her small dimpled hand and over her
heart. When she was a bit older, she'd dance before her mirror, clothed
in old, sequined dance costumes. "Don't I look beautiful, Mommy?"
she'd ask me, eyes glued to her own reflection. Her self-confidence
I worked at raising a daughter with healthy self-esteem. Praise and
encouragement were as much a part of her upbringing as Flintstones
Then my daughter crossed the threshold into adolescence and it seemed
that everything I'd spent the 12 years teaching her was forgotten
overnight. Suddenly, her self-confidence became self-consciousness;
her uniqueness shed like a butterfly's cocoon. Where was my bewitching,
independent child and who was this clone of all her friends?
Then the dreaded morning came when she stood looking at herself sideways
in the mirror. No longer was there a look of acceptance and delight
at what she saw reflected there, but rather the furrowed brow of criticism.
"Mom," she said warily, and I knew what was coming, feeling
a bit sick inside as I was forced to ponder the utter relentlessness
of the battle that undoubtedly lay ahead of her: "Do I look fat?"
"Of course not!" I told her too firmly, protesting too much.
FACING THE PROBLEM
My response was typical, says Adrienne Ressler, a clinical social
worker and director of professional development and education at the
Renfrew Center in Coconut Creek, FL the nation's leading authority
on eating disorders.
"In our desire to convince our daughters how perfect we think
they are, we kind of shame them. We'll give them a response such as,
'Don't be ridiculous!' One of the hardest things for parents to keep
in mind," Ressler says, "is that these girls really are
feeling these feelings. They're not fishing for compliments. Believe
them when they say they feel ugly or fat or big."
and negative body image are both prevalent and serious:
and body-image distortion aren't about food. Low self-esteem, anger,
shame, helplessness and rage are at the heart of every eating disorder,
whether it is anorexia, bulimia, obesity, compulsive over-eating, compulsive
exercising or yo-yo dieting.
"Today there is such a premium on stating thin that when these
11 and 12-year-old girls start developing hips and breasts, they start
freaking out." Ressler says.
It is our responsibility as parents to help prepare our daughters for
the myriad changes they will encounter in adolescence. Puberty is such
an emotional, stressful, and confusing time for them. They may, in fact,
need us more than ever before.
But how can we help our girls to feel positive about their developing
bodies when so many of us are struggling with own body-image issues?
"Prepare them very early on to the fact that it's fun to be a grown-up,"
Ressler advises. "Their bodies are going to begin storing body
fat that will help them grow into beautiful, strong women.
Reinforce the idea that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and they're
UNDERSTANDING BODY IMAGE
What is body image and where does it come from? And why do we struggle
Body image actually begins to develop at birth in the way a child is
held, touched, and responded to, Ressler says. Does the child feel safe?
Is there appropriate closeness between the child, the parent and the
"All of these things combine to give a person a sense of wholeness,
where everything is connected and they feel comfortable living in his
or her body.
Children with incomplete body image are so much more susceptible and
vulnerable to external images.
Ressler pauses, and then adds, "It doesn't have anything to do
with what size jeans you wear or anything like that."
So what can we do to help our daughters through the tortuous maze of
stereotypes and ideals, the ups and downs that undoubtedly lie ahead?
"I don't think we should censor material, but rather steer our
daughters into activities that are not focused on makeup and appearance.
Kids are still going to be interested in the popular culture. They'd
be kind of weird if they weren't," said Ressler.
To minimize the popular culture, we need to teach our kids to see it
as fluff. "Like dessert. You don't eat it every day," Ressler
Our kids are never too young for us to begin teaching them to decode
advertising. The average female model, for example, is 5 feet, 9 _ inches
tall and weighs 123 pounds, whereas the average American woman is 5
feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 144 pounds. Do our teenage girls know
that the pictures they see in the fashion magazines have been retouched?
If there is a zit, it's erased. If there is a bulge of fat, it can be
thinned out in minutes using today's computer photo-correcting programs.
"In a society that focuses so much on looks - particularly looks
for little girls - we want to reinforce things other than looks with
our daughters," Ressler says. "We want to teach them to play
sports, that their bodies are strong, to understand how smart they are,
how creative they are, how cool they are."
The first step toward helping your daughter maintain a healthy body
image, Ressler advises, is to acknowledge her feelings.
Second, try to get an idea of what her reality base is. Ask, "Has
anyone been teasing you?" Why do you think that? Or "Did you
get that idea from a magazine?"
Third, try to give her some information - a true reality check. "Dad
and I don't think you look that way at all." Or "I feel really
badly that you see yourself that way." Stay focused on being empathetic
and not shaming her for having those feelings.
For some of us, this will be an extremely difficult time in our parenting
careers. Perhaps we suffered from an eating disorder ourselves or were
raised in an abusive family or were taught that it was not OK to express
ourselves. It can be difficult to model positive behavior when we aren't
quite sure what it looks like.
Ressler encourages us to "reinforce intelligence, creativity, fitness
for fun - not just for performance. We need to help our girls find role
models other than Barbie and Tara Lapinski - people whom nobody can
really look like. When your child feels that she's not acceptable unless
she performs to a certain level, that's damaging to self esteem. Our
expectation needs to be that they should be themselves.