Unfortunately, an unintended backlash of our media campaign to combat childhood obesity is that more young girls than ever have become highly body-conscious at very young ages. They believe they are fat, are bullied and told directly that they are fat, and sometimes diet excessively and develop eating disorders — often when they are not medically overweight.
What constitutes “fat” these days is everything from medically obese to almost-but-not-quite skeletal. That’s a zone where most girls fall.
How can moms help their daughters feel good about their bodies, especially at this time of year when we are all bombarded with diet and weight loss ads? For starters, take the emphasis off the bathroom scale and place it on healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating nutritious foods, encouraging outdoor play, limiting sedentary computer and video game time, encouraging participation in sports, and finding active things to do together as a family.
Reduce the amount of messages coming into your home that are inclined to focus girls on body image — this means replace the fashion and celebrity gossip magazines on the coffee table with better options, swap out reality shows about dieting for better programming, and stop criticizing your own body and weight in front of your daughter.
Instead, talk about what is good about your body (it is strong, it brought your child into the world, etc.). You can still exercise and eat less caloric foods, but just don’t make it a discussion topic around the house.
As a family, shift the focus from weight to health, from inactivity to activity and from everyone’s outsides to their insides — there will be much more to feel good about!
Lori Day is an educational psychologist, consultant and parenting coach with Lori Day Consulting in Newburyport. Her first book, titled “Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More,” will be published in May 2014.