Special Post: Food, Girls and Body Image

This post was originally published on the Canadian Parents blog, September 20, 2011. We thought it touched upon so many issues that Guiders, parents and girls deal with, that we simply had to ask writer Blake Eligh for permission to repost it here for everyone to read. Thank you Blake and The Daily Bite!

Food, girls and body image

As parents, we spend so much time thinking, talking, obsessing over the food our little kids are (or are not) eating. But what happens once the wee ones are past the food-flinging toddler phase?

The recent news stories on a diet storybook aimed at kids has me thinking about girls, and the way we talk about food.

Paul Kramer’s Maggie Goes on a Diet gives me the shudders. The cover shows an overweight girl looking wistfully at the reflection of her happy, thin self. It’s the pigtails that get me — Maggie is just a little kid, too young for big problems. In the story, Maggie goes from introverted and overweight to happy and popular after she drops some weight and starts to exercise. The author contends that it’s a book that encourages healthy eating and lifestyle changes.

I know the stats on kids and obesity and Type 2 diabetes. But telling kids that thinness means happiness and popularity is all kinds of wrong. There are better ways to encourage kids to eat well, to aim for health, to develop a positive image of themselves, whatever their size.

In high school, I knew too many bright, beautiful girls who binged, purged and hated their bodies. They were the smart ones, the athletic ones, the beautiful-but-couldn’t-see-it-ones.

And I know too many women now who obsess about post-baby lumps, dress sizes and the stupid, stupid number on the dial between their toes.

Girls’ body hatred is insidious, and maddening, and heartbreaking, and starts so early. None of us want this for our daughters.

My girls are still small, and protected from music videos, Facebook and teen fashion mags. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but a recent chat has me thinking.

Becky Vincent, a good friend who works with Girl Guide camps, tells me about the training that Camp Woolsey counsellors get before campers arrive for the summer.  Part of training deals with food, specifically how to talk about it. For camp staffers, it’s verboten to say things like, “I’ll be bad and have an extra helping of dessert” or “I’ll be good and eat a salad today.”

Instead, counsellors talk about making healthy choices, so their bodies can be strong for a day of canoe portaging. Or they talk about how much they’re looking forward to dinner. They learn (and model) behaviour to show the girls that nourishment is important, that making healthy choices is important, but that morals or ideas of “good” and “evil” have no place at the dinner table.

So at our house, we do the same with our wee girls. We talk about the beauty of a bowl of tomatoes, the wonderful sweet taste of ripe plums, the awesome way that Pop Rocks crackle in our mouths. Broccoli is a vegetable, not penance.

We eat treats, but make sure to pack healthy foods into our day, too, so we have energy to play.

We don’t talk about diets, or abstinence, or how skinny the kids seem after a growth spurt.

I hope my girls always take the most important message: that their bodies are valuable, important and strong, and they need good fuel for fun stuff, like climbing, jumping, swimming and running.

How do you help your kids develop a healthy relationship to food and body image? I would especially love to hear from parents of older kids and teens.

Blake Eligh

By Blake Eligh. Blake is a writer, editor and mother. She tends to her garden, stockpot and two small daughters in Etobicoke. —————————————————————–

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5 Responses to Special Post: Food, Girls and Body Image

  1. Andrea says:

    Thanks for posting this. Sometimes as adults we forget just how much kids understand us, or how much they’re listening to. Kids pick up on a lot! Being conscious of what we’re saying will give ensure that there are actually people, adult women in particular, who don’t associate certain foods with negative body imagery.
    I agree that the girls should be made aware of good food choices, and associate these choices with positive body imagery. I love the example given with the camp counselors who make healthy choices to do camp activities. Forget the “obesity epidemic” baloney! Educating kids positively will change the thinking that leads to negative body discussions.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for posting this. I too love the examples of the language used at camp! One thing I realized I do after reading this article, is indeed comment on how skinny my girls are after their growth spurt….or worse, comment to my husband (hopefully not within ear shot but you know those kids and those ears!) that there must be a growth spurt coming since they’ve put on a few pounds.
    We teach our girls that food is fuel, and offer healthy choices, so I thought we were in the clear, but this article has shown me how the innocent comments can also do a lot of damage.

    Thanks again!
    Amanda, mother of an almost 8 year old, and a soon to be tween!

  3. Bri Arnold says:

    Good job Camp Woolsey on the positive talk within staff! Please pass on to the staff next summer that them following through with this training is important, and people who aren’t even coming to the camp are praising and encouraging it! Fantastic.

  4. karmavore says:

    Grownup women perpetuate a rather sad discourse around food. Enjoy it! Now go forth and liek your said, run, climb, jump, play, and, might I add, THINK!

  5. karmavore says:

    I will learnt to spell one day. Grownup women perpetuate a rather sad discourse around food. Enjoy it! Now go forth and, like you said, run, climb, jump, play, and, might I add, THINK!

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