Fit vs. Fiction's Blog


Does this backpack make me look Fat?

Body Image 4-8yrs

In 2009, a study done by the University of Central Florida revealed that nearly HALF of 3-6 year olds worry about being FAT.

3-6 year olds!

Truth be told, we all deal with a certain amount of worry regardless of how old or young we are, but there are certain concerns that just make more sense than others. Having to reassure your child that you’ll be home soon, the first time you leave her with a babysitter or spending a few minutes before bedtime clearing her closet of monsters is to be expected, but having to convince your stressed out 6 year old that her nightgown does NOT, in any way, make her look Fat, is not the kind of thing most of us are prepared for.

Research tells us that children have adopted society’s warped view on body shape and size by the time they’re FIVE YEARS OLD! One has to wonder HOW society is finding its way into their psyches SO SOON? Are the negative messages of self-judgement sneaking through some window we’re inadvertently leaving open or are they blatantly smashing through the front door? I think it’s both.

Some of the messages our kids are getting are loud and clear and therefore easy to spot, but others are way more subtle and even more dangerous because we don’t even see them coming.

New influences:

For the first few years of our children’s lives, we pretty much control their environment by deciding what they eat, watch and hear. But, once our kids start pre-school, they become exposed to all kinds of outside influences (classmates, teachers, other parents or caregivers) and it’s important that we feel comfortable with the examples they’re seeing and the lessons they’re being taught.

LISTEN and ASK

In our last article, we talked about what we can do as parents to promote healthy body image at home and today I think it’s important to point out the significant role that teachers play in our child’s esteem while they’re in school.  Recently, a lot of schools have decided to make their schools healthier by implementing rules around what foods kids can and cannot bring for lunch and snacks, they’ve also decided to tackle the issue of childhood obesity by teaching healthy eating. While intentions are good, often the execution is anything but. I truly believe that our schools want our kids to be healthy, but when it comes to FOOD and WEIGHT, we ALL come to the table with preconceived notions about what we should eat and how we should look and since it’s hard for kids to think of teachers as “regular” people, opinions can be mistaken for facts, which could prove dangerous.

Parent Tip:

a)      IF you sense a difference in the way your child is thinking about or acting around food, ASK questions.  If they suddenly decide to stop eating certain foods, find out why.

b)      TALK to their teacher. There’s nothing wrong with asking if there will be any weight or food topics discussed and how they’re planning on handling it. Again, this is an EMOTIONAL issue and it’s important to make sure your kids are getting the information that YOU feel comfortable with.

 

New Friends:

 

It can be exciting and a little scary for kids to make new friends and while we wish every new child they came into contact with was a great influence, we know that not all kids can get along or be friends. Sadly, peer pressure starts very young and it’s possible to feel like you just don’t fit in, before you even know what you’re trying to fit into!

 

Even at just 6 or 7 years old, kids can start comparing themselves to their peers. Recently, the mother of a 7 year old girl told me that her daughter came home from school saying that she didn’t want to be that fattest girl in her class anymore, and another mom told me that her 6 year old son begged her to keep him home from school because he was tired of being the smallest kid in his.

 

Kids have a very small frame of reference and need to be reminded that they’re not supposed to all look the same! Unfortunately, television doesn’t help, because most of the kids they see are carbon copies of each other.

 

Parent Tip:

Show your kids that people really do come in so many shapes and sizes. An easy thing to do is to take a trip to a mall on the weekend  when it’s pretty busy and just people watch for awhile. Point out all the different people that you see remembering to mention that it’s our differences that make us unique and special and that we are all different and unique in our own way.

 

New friends= New Toys

 

It’s easy to decide what we’re going to buy for our kids to play with and what we’d rather leave on the shelves at the toy store, but when the play dates start, some of that control is lost. To some people, toys are just toys, but many of us know how powerful they can actually be.

 

We all know that the Barbie Doll has been causing some controversy over the last few years, and with good reason. With all the “evolving” she’s supposed to have done over time, she still looks the exact same! Some of the newer Barbie’s have moved beyond supermodel and Beauty Queen to careers in business and medicine, yet they all still have size 0 waists and hips and live in impossibly high heels. Of course, Barbie is considered old school now, as there are tons of other dolls on the market perpetuating the “beauty is best” mentality. If you think this isn’t having an effect on our girls, think about the study that was done where a group of preschoolers were given a choice of 2 dolls to play with who were identical in every way except for their weight and 9 times out of 10, the girls chose the thinner dolls to play with. The really sad part about this is that this behaviour tends to continue in the playground when choosing friends to play with.

 

Barbie’s got a new boyfriend and he’s on Steroids:

 

Girls aren’t the only ones who play with dolls, except for boys, they’re called ACTION FIGURES.

I can remember being a little girl and watching my big brother play with his G.I. Joe doll and I can remember it looking very different than today’s version. The original G.I. Joe was created to look like a regular guy who was fit and strong, while today’s version looks better suited to be on stage at a bodybuilding competition instead of saving people from danger. Even our beloved Superman has been given a makeover. Apparently, someone decided that he didn’t look strong ENOUGH and gave him INSANELY big muscles and impossibly square jaw.

 

For a lot of little boys, these dolls, I mean..Action Figures, represent what a hero is supposed to look like. As a result, I have 9 year olds asking me why they don’t have 6 pack Abs or killer bicep muscles! We need to tell our sons that a truly strong man isn’t judged by the strength of his muscles but on the strength of his character.

 

Simply put, toys should encourage creativity and imagination, not feelings of inferiority and shame.

 

Parent Tip:

 

An interesting exercise you can do is start a conversation about the important people in your child’s life; feel free to pull out family photo albums for a visual prompt. Have them talk about the people who make them happy, make them laugh and help them feel good about themselves. Ask your daughters to name the women who they look up to and have her explain what is so special about them. Help her understand that these women are special because of WHO they are and not how they look and they would be just as amazing and loveable if they were taller, shorter, thinner or wider.

 

Same idea for the boys:  Who are the men that your son looks up to? Why does he admire them? Do they make him feel safe and protected? I’m willing to bet that not all, if any, of his male role models possess perfectly chiselled, well sculpted muscles and this will help him understand what true heroes look like. Discuss what kinds of people could be considered superheroes in his community; what types of people really do save lives? Why not take a trip to your local Fire or Police station where he can meet these heroes in person and see how different they look from each other, and as a bonus he’ll get to see some heroic women as well!

 

Now  Switch!

Do the same exercises in reverse. Have your son list the important women in his life and discuss how different they may look from each other and then take your daughter to see meet her local heroes too.

 

The great thing about kids at this age, is that they still think their parents are brilliant, sadly, that’s only going to last a few more years, so we need to take advantage while we still can.

Our voices matter, our actions matter and our children are listening; let’s make sure we’re proud of what we’re saying.

 

Self-worth should not be measured in pounds.

 

 

 

 

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