Growing up, I remember seeing girls at the local swimming club and wondering why I didn't look like them. I never had a big weight problem (just a stubborn belly that has carried through to my adulthood), but my mom was a constant dieter and there were others around me who worried about what they were eating and how much they weighed. That was at a time when "normal" did not mean you had to be stick-thin, and there wasn't the airbrushing and Photoshopping of magazine covers like you see today. Some of those feelings about my body have continued through my life, so I can't imagine what that pressure is like for young girls these days. New research comparing then and now provides some interesting insights.
In 1986, research from the University of California at San Francisco showed that 80% of fourth-grade girls were dieting. Fast forward to today, and many of these young dieters have become adults who continue to worry about their weight. This was during the era of Diet Coke and Jane Fonda, which now seem innocent compared to the images young girls see now. Anyone can do an Internet search and find pro-anorexia websites. Open the pages of a magazine, and you'll find celebrities and models who are not a healthy size, but rather are dangerously thin (or airbrushed to look that way).
According to new research from the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing, children as young as age five are beginning to show signs of distorted body images and dieting. Dieting in this age group is dangerous because it can stunt a child's growth and brain development. Additional research from Harris Interactive Surveys found that between 2000 and 2006, the percentage of girls who believe that they must be thin to be popular rose from 48% to 60%.
I work hard to surround my daughter with positive messages about her body, even though she's not yet 3. When my mom made a comment once that she had a "big belly", I told her never to say that in front of my daughter again. She meant nothing by it, and thought my daughter was too young to even know what my mom was talking about. But I think kids are more perceptive than we realize. So even though I won't be able to control all of the messages my daughter sees in the media, or what her friends talk about in the school cafeteria, I can provide a great example at home. And right now it's by telling her she has my favorite belly in the whole wide world (which is 100% true.)
What do you think?
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