Body image and kids

80% of 10 year old American girls have been on a diet. What do we say to these kids?

80% of 10 year old American girls have been on a diet. What do we say to these kids?

I have mentioned here before that I am a big fan of the blog Dances with Fat and it's writer, Ragen Chastain. She recently put out a blog post about body image and kids and I love, love, love it. So, naturally, I thought I should share!

Ragen starts off by talking about the message she most wishes she could share with her 10 year old self" "Don't diet. Don't ever, ever diet." She weaved in some spectacular and scary facts about our youth today.

When I do speak to and with girls, sometimes as young as third grade, I hear about the extreme pressure to be thin and the fat shaming (both often coming from adults) that is leading to a world where 1 out of 4 children had dieted prior to turning 7, and a staggering 80% of American girls aged 10 have been on diets. Also concerning was the finding that one-third of boys and the majority of girls ages 6 to 8 wish their bodies were thinner, and where the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that hospitalizations of children younger than 12 years for eating disorders rose by 119% from 1999 to 2006. (Children UNDER 12)

According to Ragen, modeling healthy body image is key, but realizing how difficult that is she gave some tips.

  • Stop negative body talk, all of it, right now. Start with your own body. Kids believe what we do more than what we say, so if we talk badly about our own bodies, but then tell kids who look like us that they are beautiful, they are going to see right through that. Decide that you are going to talk about things you like about your body, celebrate exactly what you look like and what your body can do. Don’t say negative things about other people’s bodies.  When you watch the Oscar’s, encourage kids to focus on the performer’s accomplishments and not on how they look.

  • Talk about health in terms of health and never in terms of weight or body size.  Let kids know that bodies come in lots of sizes and all bodies are good bodies, and let them know that, while there are things that they can do to support their health, it is not a barometer of worthiness or entirely within our control.

  • Make health about fun, not about restriction and punishment.  Talk about what kids can DO to support their health instead of suggesting what they should restrict or not do.

  • I have a talk I give to all ages called “The World is Messed Up, You’re Fine” and I think that’s an important message to give kids.  Let them know that a lot of times adults, including adults we’re supposed to trust, do super messed up things, often meaning well but messed up nonetheless. When it comes to body size and health right now the world is pretty messed up -people insist that bodies are good or bad depending on what size they are and there’s a lot of prejudice, negative body talk, and bullying that happens around size.  There are even some doctors who believe this, and even think that they can make guesses about how healthy someone is by what they look like.  The truth is that people come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and all bodies are good bodies.

  • Be honest – explain the concepts of oppression, and privilege and activism in an age-appropriate way. Yes, in our society people who look a certain way may be treated better, and if you think that’s wrong you can fight to end it.  You can also talk about weight and health – explain that there are some people who may want the best for them, but they are unfortunately ill-informed about the truth about the diversity of body sizes that exist and how health works (maybe start with the story of Galileo.) You can also bridge this lesson to talk about other types of oppression – racism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism et al,  areas where they have privilege and how they can use that privilege to help (age-appropriate intersectionality FTW!)

  • Point out the ways that the industries profit from us hating our bodies and trying to achieve some stereotype of beauty that is unattainable and arbitrary.

  • Never encourage kids to diet. Nothing good comes of it.  Research from the University of Minnesota found that: “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors.”  Encourage kids of all sizes to appreciate their bodies and see them as amazing and worthy of care. Then work to make sure that they have the resources to take good care of

You can read the whole blog post here and I would definitely encourage you to subscribe to her blog because she doesn't disappoint.

If you are in the Vancouver, WA or Portland, OR areas and looking for help with body image, or related, issues please fill out this form and I will contact you to set up a free 15-minute phone consultation.


Tamara Werner

Tamara Werner is a counselor, author, speaker, and activist. Her private practice, Get Centered Counseling in Vancouver WA, helps women with food and body issues learn to love themselves, their body, their life, and their relationships. Her life’s work is steeped in personal experience, having fifteen years in recovery for anorexia, in addition to being a breast cancer survivor. An up and coming force in the counseling community, Tamara has been published in a textbook called Treatment Strategies for Substance and Process Addictions, and has sat on a panel at the American Counseling Association Conference, where she spoke to her peers on strategies and tools to use with clients struggling with eating disorders. Having a deep, personal understanding of what it takes to recover from this condition, she seeks to be an example to those she treats, to let them know that recovery is possible.