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Posts Tagged ‘child development’

Recently, I have noticed a resurgence in eating disorder articles in the health section on news sites like CNN, Msnbc, and NyTimes. Although I don’t primarily write about clinical eating disorders, preferring to focus more on the wide spread disordered eating and health in our culture and society, I feel that eating disorders can not go unmentioned.

After all, eating disorders are the extreme products of how we negatively communicate health, fitness, food, and beauty image in this culture.

A CNN article I found particularly disturbing was about a boy who started dieting and exercising at age 11 and increasingly got more restrictive until he was 79 lbs. at his lowest weight. The obsession with his weight began in that phase everyone goes through. Yes, you know the one I am referring to. The few blurry years we all try to forget and hide the pictures or any other documentation that they existed. The blurry figure in the haze had a mouth full of braces, baby fat, horrible hair, and slumped shoulders in uncertainty of the body that was trying to make its way to the surface.

This boys story about his struggle with food, body image, and acceptance hits home that everyone, not just females, are dealing with feelings of not looking good enough and being accepted by others based on appearance. This is especially true for the sensitive years in life where everyone is just starting to become aware and understand their body, culture, and other perceptions of them.

Not only does this story point out that eating disorders affect males but it again broadens the age brackets we most closely associate with eating disorders.

This article and another NYtimes article, “Treating Eating Disorders and Paying for It,”  highlighted a recent report in the Journal of Pediatrics finding that today more children are developing eating disorders and developing them at an earlier age.

Also, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, hospitalizations from eating disorders grew 18 percent from 1999-2006. The sharpest rise was for children 12 and under.

Here’s a video highlighting the Journal of Pediatrics report: 

We need to ask ourselves what is happening. What are we doing that reinforces our children to focus more on what they put in their mouths than whether they should play outside or build forts with the furniture.

We may have a little control over what the media and culture at large communicates to them but we must clarify the realities of what they see and hear from others. We need to encourage them to be who they are and be proud of who they are. We need to encourage health and fitness aside from being healthy and fit for image. We need to set an example in the way we live our own lives and in the way we talk about food, diet, health, fitness, and body image to other adults.

The NYtimes posted a multimedia of  people of all ages, sexes, genders, and races sharing their different experiences with eating disorders. It is worth the few minutes to listen. They share stories of anorexia, bulimia, and over eating. They speak about the struggles and the self talk that perpetuated their eating disorders. Some of them are family members of people struggling with eating disorders. Listen to the tapestry. Listen to the stories and ask yourself what you can do within your own life to counteract the negativity surrounding food, fitness, health, and body image.  Check it out here!

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Are you a parent and have been asked this question? Maybe you’re not a parent but have been asked this question by a younger person in your life. Maybe you’ve been asked similar versions of this question or have talked with a younger person exploring how they feel in their body or the way they look.

If you feel that you have experienced this or something similar, I would love to hear your stories, opinions, and thoughts. Your stories and emails will be keep completely anonymous or if you choose completely private.

I am interested in exploring how we are communicating body awareness, image, health, and eating with the younger people in our lives.

Please email your stories, thoughts, or opinions to abodyrevolution@gmail.com.

Update: Due to several emails I have received from individuals in their teens I realized that this blog has readers of all ages and I had forgotten to include their important voice on this topic! I apologize. In order to understand the dialogues and messages we are giving tweens and teenagers about health and body image we need to get their perspective and stories as well.

So, if you are 21 or younger and wish to voice your opinion on this topic or share your story write me an email! I will promise to keep it just between you and I if you choose 🙂 Thank you and it is much appreciated. Thank you for those who pointed out to me that this topic needs to include everyone to best understand and improve it.

Here are a few things to think about:

  • Was there ever a time you wanted to talk with an older person about the way you felt about your body or dieting and they didn’t listen?
  • Has a parent or older person talked to you about health and body image? How did they do it? Did it make you uncomfortable or did it help?
  • Has a parent or older person ever made a comment to you about health or body image that you did nor did not agree with?
  • Do you feel like you can be completely open about how you feel with an older person?
  • Do you feel like you can trust them to give you good advice and answer your questions honestly?

These are just some questions get you thinking but whatever you want to share I am all ears!

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Have you ever felt as if you were being watched by an infant as their eyes follow you across the room or been fascinated with a child when you put your finger to your nose and they mirror your actions? A large part of child development is watching others, mimicry, and exploring their environment. Through these processes  children are learning how to become less dependent and more self-sufficient. Their minds are delicate and highly impressionable. Anyone that has worked closely with kids can attest to this.

If children are highly impressionable how are they interpreting the messages of beauty and health that are every where in our society? How much of our “adult” conversations about these issues do they actually hear?

I ran across a Newsweek article “Generation Diva” that questions whether our obsession with beauty is changing our kids. I can’t help but ask myself this question as I walk down the street and see young girls with their little mosquito bite breasts, faces painted, purses larger than their bodies, handkerchiefs for skirts, and hands clutching cell phones looking like miniature replicas of the Olsen twins giggling nervously. I’ve sat and observed them talking about boys, diets, and fashion as if they were read Vogue instead of Where the Wild Things Are at bedtime. I’ve often played a game guessing their ages only to realize they haven’t even reached middle school yet. I’ve listened to two mothers talk about watching their daughters dance and gyrate their hips in movements that it’s possible they, as 30- year old women, had yet to master. If children are impressionable, then where are they modeling this behavior and where are they receiving these messages?

Girls are growing up today with their ipods blaring Britney Spear’s “Get Naked (I Got a Plan)”, reading articles in Seventeen with headlines telling them about “Flat Tummy Tricks”  or  “Get Hot or Less,” websites where they post photos and peers rate their attractiveness,  watching American’s Next Top Model and people trading in their faces for ones that look similar to celebrities on I Want A Famous Face, or Dr.902010 and other numerous make-over shows which communicate that you can always achieve something more beautiful, and My Biggest Loser telling kids if you’re “fat” it’s just one more thing you should change.

Messages of transformation are every where in a young person’s world. The messages communicate to young girls that perfection, beauty, and popularity are attainable but also embedded in the message is that the little girl who stares back at them in the mirror without all the makeup and highlights is not beautiful. Especially if you have an ounce of fat on your bones.

According to market research done by Experian, 43 percent of 6- to 9-year-olds are already using lipstick or lip gloss; 38 percent use hairstyling products; and 12 percent use other cosmetics. Compared with other market research that has been done in the past, the percentages have increased and the age of the girls has decreased. A example of this is the cosmetic craze in young girls where they pile in mom’s car and unload at spas that market themselves for girls between the ages 0-12! Here’s a video discussing the new spas for tweens:

Young girls are growing up faster with a beauty ideal that is increasing just as rapidly. The question is not only how does this affect their self-esteem, self-acceptance, and development but also what is the projection of the future generations as they hit their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s 60’s? The young people of today are the future of tomorrow. Are we slowly evolving into a society that no longer celebrates natural beauty and individuality but encourages perfection, taunts us that it’s attainable, yet always keeps raising the bar so it’s never quite within our grasp?

I believe it is important to be aware of the messages that our children are receiving and not to deny that they are affected by them. Let’s talk more with the little people in our lives and encourage their natural beauty, talents, and set an other example for them separate from the models they see in society.  Instead of the hyper-neurotic search for beauty, popularity, and perfection; let’s teach our children, the future generation, about the passion of living, loving who you are, and accepting others regardless of their looks, size, what their wearing, how much money they have, their race, ablebodiness, sexuality, or gender.

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