Sunday Reflections: Dear Adults, Please Stop Talking About How Much You Hate Your Body in Front of My Children
A couple of months ago, The Teen told me about a teacher who was eating a salad at lunch and talked to their students about being on a diet and needing to lose weight.
Another couple of friends were on a diet and talked about it a lot in front of my children.
A family member told my kids how many calories were in each snack as she handed it to them throughout the course of a visit.
And last night, my 11-year-old and her troop were selling Girl Scout cookies. A lot of people politely declined, following it up with some statement or other about how they were on a diet or needed to lose weight. A simple no thank you will suffice.
The first time one of my daughters commented on their body negatively they were 7. And as someone who has struggled with a body image issue and eating disorder since middle school, it broke my heart and filled me with fear. I’ve hated the skin I’m in for 47 because no one ever told me I could or should love it and I don’t want that for my children.
I’ve read 1 million parenting books on how to help your daughter love their body and the one thing that is mentioned over and over again is to be careful about how you look at and talk about your body in front of them. I have worked really hard to deconstruct my own issues and not project them onto my girls. It turns out what I can’t control is the other adults that have influence on them.
In our society we are bombarded with millions of subtle and not so subtle messages every day that enforce unrealistic and harmful body image messages. From the toys we buy to the TV and movies we watch to the ads we see on billboards as we drive down the freeway, we are subjected to so many messages that make it clear that thin (and tall and white) are beautiful.
I know very few people who are happy in the skin they’re in. And we communicate this to the children in our lives in a variety of ways and perpetuate the cycle. We talk about being fat, losing weight, and communicate our self hatred on a daily basis. It’s exhausting and once you learn to recognize it, it’s hard to escape how insidious it is.
Don’t get me wrong, I do talk with my girls about food, just as I talk with them about other issues like consent and healthy relationships. We talk about our bodies needing a wide variety of nutrients to function properly and how to look at the foods we eat and the range of nutrients we are or are not receiving. We talk about calcium building bones, vitamin c helping to build strong immune systems, and how other nutrients support the nervous system. My husband has high blood pressure so we talk about diet in terms of having a healthy diet to help support healthy heart function, for example. You can talk about health, wellness and nutrition without body shaming and making young kids hate their bodies as they drown in negative self esteem.
Growing up, I heard a lot about how it takes a village. And I have found this to be true and both positive and negative ways. I would love it if the adults in the life of my children would stop talking about how much they hate their bodies in front of them. I hate that we have all learned to hate ourselves and our bodies so much that we do this without even thinking about how we’re projecting our issues onto our children.
My sincere hope is that you love yourself and your body. But if you are one of the millions of adults who have bought into the lie that you don’t deserve to for whatever reason, please consider helping to stop the cycle by refraining from talking about it in front of the children. If you are an adult who works with youth, I hope that you understand and will consider what type of an impact your words and actions have on the youth you serve and talk about your body and diet in healthy ways. The children are listening.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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