Written by Heather Ward, Clinic Therapist Supervisor/Therapist
As a person born in the early 90’s, I remember most of the messaging about how I was supposed to look coming from highly photoshopped and edited celebrity photos in magazines and on TV. An ever rotating string of fad diets were also widely talked about in the early 90’s and early 2000’s, most notably the Atkin’s diet and the South Beach diet, both of which instructed followers to either eliminate or significantly limit types of foods they were consuming. These neverending messages of “thinness” were consumed in the media by kids, primarily targeted at girls, which led to a lot of problems with body image that often last into adulthood – and that was BEFORE the rise of social media, which is now in the hands of most teen and pre-teen kids and consumed for hours per day. The rise of social media has brought about the rise of the influencer – the everyday person who portrays the perfect life and image on social media. Filters are more advanced than they used to be as well. Gone are the days where filters simply perfected skin or make-up; filters now can alter the shape of the whole body or face which leads to unrealistic expectations that youth then attempt to emulate. Remember the recent “thigh gap” ordeal? It’s not even physically possible for some body shapes to achieve that shape!
While we cannot stop the flow of diet culture messages that are encountered in the media or totally eliminate heavily filtered content, we can promote body positivity and a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and ourselves in our own homes. When we talk negatively, even subtly, about our own bodies, our children hear us and in turn worry about their own bodies. When we avoid taking pictures or swimming or wearing shorts because we are unhappy with how we look, our children see this and learn to hold this same guilt and shame over their bodies, perpetuating the cycle. We want to avoid viewing exercise as a chore and food as a reward.
Practicing intuitive eating, which includes tuning into your body’s hunger and satiety cues, helps kids and adults alike become more in tune with their bodies needs and encourages healthy eating patterns – the goals is not to exclude certain types of foods, but to incorporate them in a healthy manner. Exercise should be joyful movement such as walking the dog, swimming at the pool, dancing in the living room or playing at the park, not a task to be dreaded or required for weight loss. We should celebrate what our bodies can do rather than what they look like; we can celebrate our passions, hobbies, skills and interactions instead. It’s important to open lines of communication in the home so that all members can talk freely and honestly about their experiences consuming this messaging. I know there are likely a lot of us who still struggle with decades of similar messaging and it ours job to help break the cycle for our sons and daughters so they can feel healthy, confident and fulfilled, no matter how bodies are portrayed in the media.