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How To Nurture A Healthy Body Image In Girls - Howdini

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The pressure on girls to be thin and beautiful is real and fashion magazines set impossible standards of beauty. Parents need to help nurture a healthy body image in girls. Here’s advice from Carol Weston, advice columnist for Girls' Life magazine.

DENISE: I'm Denise Richardson and this is howdini.com. With us now is Carol Weston who's author of many books including Girltalk, but most importantly for us she's been the Girl's Life columnist since 1994. We're talking body image here and let's talk about the letters that you receive because they're really important. What are these young women, and maybe boys, what are they saying about body image?

CAROL: Boys worry about their bodies, but girls worry even more. And I get, I would say about one in four of my letters probably is about body issues. A lot of girls, um, you know my--I already have breasts and I don't even want them, or I'm so flat and I wish I had breasts. That's just a big one. And also, um, I'm so fat, I know I'm fat, everyone teases me for being fat. That's a really sad and a really common letter. Some girls tell me, you know, how much they weigh and how much, you know, they're not sure how they look. It's almost like they have no idea how they look. So they're very--there's a lot of confusion out there, and I think it would be so healthy if parents could just help their kids get as fit as possible and feel good about it.

DENISE: Yeah, but there's emotional wear and tear in not knowing and feeling confident with your body. What's the level of emotion that you hear in the letters?

CAROL: Many girls write me and say they want to lose weight, but I don't want to barf. They really don't know how to lose weight. So on the one hand if your girl looks great, we want her, we want you Mom, Dad, to help that daughter feel great. But if in fact she has a weight problem, you want to help her with that. If she had pimples all over her face you wouldn't say you look great, you'd take her to a dermatologist. So if you have a girl who's size extra extra extra large and she's thirteen, she's about to have a miserable time in school. So you owe it to her to help her.

DENISE: What's even more excruciating is to look at magazine cover no matter where you go and to think that you're supposed to look like that cover. They kind of know air brushing, but they don't get air brushing.

CAROL: Right and you say no, no, nobody in real life looks like that. Let's go outside and walk around today. Okay you tell me if you see anybody who looks like that. She's a model because that is how she looks, that's what she does best is look good. You have so many strengths, honey, I'm so proud of you. It's all about in adolescence, at some point, looking in the mirror and saying my height is my height. You know, I am 5'2; I can't wish myself any taller, and now I'm fine with that. That's the whole point. You know tall is fine, you know petite is fine. Flat is fine, buxom is fine. You're helping your son and your daughter feel good with how they look. And if they've got, you know, pimples or too much weight or something that you can help them with, then help them with that.

DENISE: You know there are parents who don't realize this. But they're exasperating the kid's problem with their body image, and they're doing it how. And you must hear that in you mail as well.

CAROL: Well I'm not sure that my uh, my letter writers are aware that Mom's triggering this, but you are absolutely right. A lot of moms who are so, and some dads, who are so careful about what they eat--oh no, not this dressing on the salad, oh on not dessert, never dessert--that suddenly they have a kid who would never maybe have dessert in their house, but goes to the best friend's house and has three cupcakes. So really I hope for the parents' sake that you've made peace with food. Food should be a very happy and important part of everybody's life, but if you know that you're a little compulsive about it, try not to pass that on to your kid. The easiest way is just to keep the junk food out of your house. I'm telling you if I had chocolate chip cookies in my house everyday I would eat them. So the solution is, don't have them there. You know?

DENISE: You have some S's in your lifestyle.

CAROL: Oh I always say my S rule. Cut back on snacks, sweets, seconds, and soda.

DENISE: What advice would you give to a parent whose child comes to them and says I want a breast reduction, breast enhancement, or want a nose job.

CAROL: In most cases I would say to the parent to say to the kid, honey you look great. You have a beautiful body, you're healthy, enjoy your body for what it does not just how it looks. By the way you look great. If you believe that your daughter looks great just uh, she's going to believe she looks great too. And there's no such thing as perfect, but if you want to be perfect it ain't going to happen. So just want to look good. You probably already look good, you know, so...

DENISE: And perfection is more often where you're at right now. Carol Weston thank you very much for being with us.

CAROL: Thank you.

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EmpowHER Guest

Great points except many fashion models are suffering with body image issues and eating disorders themselves, possibly the majority. Models don't look like that because it is their job, they are often under intense pressure to be skinnier and disordered eating is rampant in the industry. It is not a natural look and saying it is doesn't help effect change. We must be honest with our girls about the images that surround them and that they have good reason to feel insecure when they are bombarded by unrealistic images.

I like what she says about looking around your school, and neighbourhood, at your friends and their moms to see what girls and women really look like on average. However, this must be coupled with education about media and advertising imagery and the way it uses altered and perfected images of women to sell things to us.

June 6, 2012 - 1:03pm
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