Opinion

It's time to quit the 'fat talk' | Amy Johnson

“Fifty-four percent of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat,” proclaims a video about fat talk, body image and young women put out by the Reflections Program.

We live in a country where up to one-third of children and adolescents are obese. We live in a country where the First Lady has worked to raise awareness about this issue and about healthy eating and exercise habits.

And, we live in a country where 81 percent of 10-year-olds are actually afraid of being fat.

How do we balance the fact that we have a national health problem with the complexities of developing healthy body image in ourselves and our children?

People don’t like to talk about weight in public — yet we do it all the time in the privacy of our own heads. In front of our mirrors and in our closets, we silently berate ourselves for not comparing favorably to supermodels. For women, fat talk usually involves not being thin enough, especially in tummies, butts and legs.

A 2011 study showed that 93 percent of women reported engaging in fat talk, even though those who use fat talk have higher body dissatisfaction and are more at risk for developing an eating disorder. While 91 percent of cosmetic surgery procedures were done on women in 2007, guys are not immune. Teen guys report pressure to have bigger muscles, and increasingly resort to steroid use as a remedy.

While these statistics are extreme, parents and adults need realistic guidelines for what to do. Instead of becoming hyper-vigilant about what our children eat, or sticking our heads in the sand because of our own body image, we need to take practical steps to get healthier ourselves and raise healthy kids. Here are some tips:

• Emphasize health over looks in children.

• Focus on keeping kids active, instead of stressing about weight.

• As children grow into their middle school years, help them expand their role models to include people who are healthy, kind and good leaders — not just rich, famous, unrealistically proportioned celebrities.

• Watch your own behavior. Are you constantly dieting? Saying you look fat in clothing? Berating your cellulite? Change your language about yourself, and your kids will likely follow suit.

• Be aware of what compliments you give to children, especially young girls. Our societal norm tends favor compliments for girls on being pretty, cute, or choosing a nice outfit. Instead, make sure you compliment all of your children on how well they handled a difficult situation, how they were a good friend, and what healthy choices they made, for example.

• Limit television viewing and watch with them. A recent study has shown that most tweens who watch a lot of TV suffer from lower self-esteem, especially girls. Talk about what you see and how unrealistic it is.

Don’t let fantasy and celebrities dominate your child’s view of himself or herself. Educate your children about beauty being more than skin deep, and about health being more than a number on the scale. Talk about it, think about it, and kick fat talk in the butt.

Resources

Here are a few resources available to help counter the pervasive messages about Barbie and G.I. Joe-type bodies.

Operation Beautiful: This blog has interactive activities, quotes, and videos to inspire you to end fat talk.

Love Your Body: Offers activities, products and e-cards around healthy body image.

You Beauty: Features quizzes, articles and info about health and beauty myths and facts.

 

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Jul 25 edition online now. Browse the archives.