Did you know that there are girls as young as 6 suffering from eating disorders? And I’m not talking about diseases and disorders that are inherited or unpreventable. I’m talking about little 6 year olds looking in the mirror and being so discouraged by their image that they are starving themselves.
I didn’t give this topic much attention until one day my 8 year old daughter came home and flat out told me she thinks she is ugly because she thinks she has a fat face. I just looked at her like she was speaking a foreign language. How could she even comprehend the meaning of “fat” as us women do? I knew I needed to have a talk with her right then and there. I didn’t get angry or undermine her statement. I took her to the mirror and as she looked in it, I told her she was perfectly beautiful from her funny laugh to her big brown puppy dog eyes to her long graceful toes.
Do you have a daughter? If you do, then this is an important read for you because our daughters are growing up in a society obsessed with a distorted image of physical beauty and the age of girls affected by all of this is growing younger and younger. Just to give you an idea, here are some statistics. According to a survey, one half of 4th graders are on a diet. 51% of 9 and 10 year olds said they felt better about themselves when they were on a diet to lose weight. And one study found that adolescent girls were more fearful of getting fat than they were of being a victim of a nuclear bomb, getting cancer or losing their parents! These girls need you mom and the younger you can get to them, the better. So what important steps can you take to protect your daughter from an unhealthy obsession with her image? Here are some key steps.
Teach them about nutrition
Children need to learn at an early age about nutrition and the importance of it. Eating right not only keeps them at a healthy weight but mentally, they feel better. Me personally, I always serve a vegetable at dinner and I have my kids take turns telling me the benefits of the specific vegetable they’re eating. I also do this with the other food varieties but they seem to struggle with the veggies so that’s why I’m stressing it here. I also only allow my kids to have 1 junk food a day. This way they see junk food as a special treat and something that isn’t necessary as opposed to seeing it as a go to when they’re hungry.
Kids are never too young to start exercising. I’m not saying you should have them put on their running shoes and go run a 5K every morning but if you work out on a regular basis, take your kids along if you can and teach them about what you do. When I run on the treadmill, I sometimes take my kids and they have a blast racing each other on the treadmill. I also stress exercise as a way to take care of their bodies and not necessarily as a way to lose weight. Make exercise fun! Kick them out of the house for 30 minutes a day and have them do things like jump rope, play football or anything that involves physical activity.
Get your kids involved in programs outside of school. It doesn’t even have to involve physical activities but getting them involved in something that they enjoy doing keeps their little minds busy and focused on things that can boost their confidence. Both of my kids are in martial arts and the confidence boost they’ve both gotten from being involved has allowed them to see that there are much more important things in the world than obsessing over how you look physically.
Tell them they’re beautiful
I tell my daughter how beautiful she is all the time and it goes much deeper than complimenting her physical beauty. I tell her that I love when she laughs because she has the most beautiful smile when she laughs. I tell her how graceful she looks when she walks with the cat in her arms (she’s so careful and attentive with our cats). I make it a point to link her beauty to happiness because I want her to realize that when she’s happy is when she is most beautiful. When your daughter smiles, laughs and portrays happiness, tell her how beautiful she is. Happiness is beautiful no matter who you are.
Let them be who they are
We think we know who our children are but no one knows better than them. As parents, our job is to guide them in finding who they really are. I remember how badly I wanted my daughter to do ballet and I think she put up with it for a whole 2 years just to please me. I kept telling her “you’ll get used to it” but in the back of my mind I felt that she hated it. Who knows why, it just wasn’t her. So I finally surrendered peacefully and asked her what she wanted to do. After many trials and errors, my daughter has found a love for Jiu Jitsu. No longer do I have to drag her out with promises of candy once we “get in the car” to get her to class on time. Usually she’s in the car before me now. Let your children be who they are and love them for who they are. They are perfect right now just as they are and there’s no need to change them. Let them know that you love them for who they are and you’ll instill a confidence that no eating disorder can break.
Listen to them
Sometimes we are so quick to brush off our children’s absurd comments as “growing pains” but children don’t always understand what they are feeling and their silly comments could be a cry for help. Listen to what your children say and without judgement. Really hear their words and give them your fullest attention when they are speaking to you. If they know you are there to listen to them about anything, they will come to you instead of finding other ways to deal with their doubts. Tell them they can tell you anything. I remind my kids every time they come to me with some concern that I am here to listen…no matter what. Children are much more likely to tell their parents what they’re going through if they believe that their parents will listen without judgement.
Take care of yourself
Remember that you are your child’s biggest role model. Take care of yourself and do things that make you feel beautiful because when you feel beautiful, your daughter will also learn to do things that make her feel beautiful. It’s not just about being beautiful on the outside but it’s about doing things that make you feel good on the inside. Like wearing clothes that you feel pretty in, putting on lipstick, curling your hair, dancing around like a fool in your granny panties…whatever! Just do what makes you feel beautiful and she will learn that what other people think is beauty is not what makes you beautiful. What you think is beautiful makes you beautiful.
We love our children too much to let them fall victim to eating disorders and distorted images but we aren’t helpless. Step in now and guide your children in seeing the true beauty they possess. After all, there isn’t another child in this universe that is as beautiful as they are.