Two years ago I posted The Children Are Listening and lately I feel strongly that it needs repeating. It is evident that how we talk about our bodies, how we talk about other people’s bodies, and how we handle our nutrition directly impacts how our children – the girls in particular – view themselves. They are listening to what we say and how we still idolize thin, plastic or enhanced women and super buff men.
We MUST make it a priority to teach the latest and future generations to view nutrition and exercise as equal priorities along with the standards like good dental hygiene and a good education. Then, and only then, will we see an entirety of young adults having healthy fat levels, and healthy self-esteems, which in turn will benefit us all (especially as health insurance issues are far from being resolved). So read and remember, the children are listening.
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I overheard two nine year old girls talking the other day at a friend’s home. One tall, one short, neither thin, neither overweight – but clearly built very differently. The taller one was urging the shorter one to get on the scale to see what she weighed. Finally, reluctantly, she obliged and weighed in four pounds heavier than the taller girl. Said tall girl then replied “ooh, maybe we should run around more at recess.”
What does this tell me? It tells me that the tall girl has been overhearing her mother lament about her weight. It tells me that by third grade, she’s already decided that what the scale shows defines how you’re seen. It also shows me how much our kids are listening society’s obsession with weight.
It’s not just the girls mind you, I’ve caught many a group of elementary school boys quickly dismissing a girl based upon her weight, having learned early on that thinner is more attractive. All it takes is one tossed away comment “wow she’s hot” by a Dad watching a Victoria Secret’s commercial to take root his son’s head.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that I do not own a scale, and berate my clients who use one to gauge their fitness. You should also know that I am trying to raise awareness with the world at large, as well as in my own home, that body fat vs. scale weight vs. internal health are three different things and should not be lumped together.
Clearly, being a personal trainer, there’s a lot of discussion in our home about nutrition, body fat, body acceptance, etc. My daughter is built on the short and stocky side, yet she is strong and healthy – not fat. But put her next to her taller and leaner best friends, sure she seems thicker – a perception that to the ignorant child/adult could be referred to as fat.
I work diligently to maintain her healthy self-esteem so that she will not suffer in middle-school, high- school and beyond. Young girls and boys’ feelings of inadequacy because society has deemed them inferior if they’re not built like models, starts in the home whether you’re aware of it or not.
My hope today for those of you who read this – and hopefully you’ll pass it on to reach more – is that everyone who worries about their “weight” should stop verbalizing their issues in front of their children. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, boyfriends, girlfriends – we all need to realize that one little innocuous sentence (“I can’t lose the last ten pounds, I hate the way I look”) can plant a very destructive seed in a little person’s brain. They’ll either see themselves as flawed, or they’ll deem other’s as flawed if they don’t match up to that perfect body expectation.
So think about what you say around your kids, and what they might internalize about themselves from it. Engage in open discussions about health, nutrition, the differences in body types, and most importantly, that ultimately we must not judge books by their covers – beauty is not just skin deep – and any other words of positive reaffirmation to remind them that life is about being a good person – not being perfect.
A recent study by medical professionals stated that personal stress levels of the average US citizen are at an all-time high, and higher still than many other technologically advanced countries. In my opinion, the reason for this lies in the sheer massive quantity of choices we can make on a daily basis. That’s right, CHOICES – about everything from what we eat, to what we wear, to how we raise our children, to how we want to be entertained, and the biggie: how we can make more money.
While my daily focus is on the stress, or rather pressure, that so many people put upon themselves to get into shape and eat healthier, I am also aware of how much stress my friends and clients feel from all the above-listed choices that fill our lives. Many worry about how they look in the clothes they choose, or more likely they fret about the clothes they cannot wear that they’d like to choose. Others stress over their children’s education, while another group worries about organic vs. GMO and how to afford Whole Foods instead of Albertsons. But here’s the reality – these “choices” that are stressing us out are often born from WANTS instead of NEEDS, something which is clearly under our control.
When I was young, my father abandoned us, and my mother held two jobs while she finished her schooling and obtained not only her Masters, but a Ph.D. During those hard times when money was tight, she would tell me that she’d make sure I got everything I needed, and once in a while something I wanted. She helped me to understand the difference between a need and a want. That lesson is something I’m passing on to my child, even though she is growing up with parents that are more secure financially than either of us were growing up.
Now if you’re stressing over money, or the lack thereof, well I know that’s a hard issue to apply the word “choice” to, but you can. Despite the fact that the poverty level in the U.S. keeps rising along with the cost of living, so many people put themselves in a worse financial state because of their WANTS. The keeping up with the Joneses mentality often propels us into buying more than we can afford (from cars to homes). But the overwhelming want (vs. a real need) to have the latest technology or hot brand of clothing is a choice you can control.
In terms of your fitness – or the condition of your body – as I’ve stated many times over in my blog if you stay focused on your health instead of the pressure-filled idea that you must shrink from a size 12 to a size 8, then you’re more likely to succeed. Just make the choice to eat small healthy meals several times a day, while committing to 2-4 workouts a week where you break a sweat. That little amount of change can reap huge results.
As for children and their education, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that unless you have a child that is truly targeted for a career in law or medicine where attending Harvard or USC is paramount to their success, the average child can achieve a bachelor’s degree from your average four-year university (even if they start their first two years at community college) and go on to have a successful career in their chosen field even without AP Classes, Scholarships, or 529 Plans. Good grades and diligent studying can be enough – no one has to stress out about this starting in eighth grade (which believe it or not, many parents are doing – not to mention that they’re stressing their kids out too).
So the next time you feel overwhelmed by your stress levels, look at how much of that stress is coming from choices you’ve made because you WANTED to, not because you NEEDED to.
Raising a young girl I feel a huge responsibility to educate her on what it means to be a woman, and most importantly to have confidence and good self-esteem about her body and her femininity. What I find to be the most confusing aspect of woman-hood to 90% of girls and women that I meet these days, is the misunderstanding of sex vs. love. Making things all the more convoluted is the rampant and massive porn and sex industry sending mixed messages to both genders about what it is to be a woman.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting on any prudish soapbox here. I have no issue with porn or strip clubs, as long as the women involved are first and foremost women, not girls, and secondly that they are participating with their own free will.
My issue is that girls AND boys are being fed blatantly wrong images about love, sex, bodies, nudity, and how a woman wants to be treated and should be treated. The old cliché that men want a refined, soft-spoken woman in the kitchen, and a whore in the bedroom still exists for many a young man.
Merchandise like “Bratz” dolls (see picture above) and suggestive clothing is marketed to girls as young as 8 and establishes early-on the misdirection that sexiness can only be achieved by wearing revealing clothes, stripper high-heels, and posing with your lips pursed-poutly. Furthermore, men and the media spoon feeds our little girls the misnomer that sexiness (which is actually often sluttiness) is necessary for you to be attractive enough to get a man.
I am a first generation product of the women’s sexual revolution and I appreciate the strides we have made as women to be able to have birth control that we control, that we can have sex out of wedlock without shame, and even speak up about our sexual needs and likes. BUT, I had to learn the hard way the difference between sex and love, lust and caring, as did many of my peers. I feel now it is imperative that we compound the strides made by women of the 60’s and 70’s and start speaking much more frankly with our daughters and sons.
We must explain to them the differences and nuances between love and sex. We must advise them when and how it’s okay to have sex vs. “making love.” We must teach our daughters to understand that their bodies have an affect and power over boys that neither gender can understand in the teen years, and that said power must be respected and not wielded blindly, stupidly, or just because boyfriend or peer pressure tells them that it’s okay become sexually active. We must also teach the boys that no really does mean no, even if you’re half way into the act, and that one should NEVER take advantage of a girl who is mentally impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Lastly, we have to explain to all young children and teens that women who chose to parade around with their breasts or bums revealed are not the examples we should strive for. There is a time and place for women to be dressed in lingerie (or not dressed at all), and walking around in public is not it. (Again I’m not trying to pick on strips clubs or their patrons.) Young adults need to understand that surgically enhanced breasts and stiletto heels can send the message “I’m ready to be your sex-toy” and if you choose to dress that way, then you have to expect that you’ll be treated as nothing but a sexual object. Most importantly we must emphasize that being desired sexually is okay under the right conditions, but that those conditions are very specific and when the lines are blurred so is the treatment of women and thus their self-esteem is eroded.
I know today’s blog is intense and not necessarily fitness focused, but I am passionate about all areas of life being in balance and I have so many friends and clients that are grown women and men who are still confused about sex and love, so today this is what spewed out of my brain. Think about it. Share your thoughts with me – and then get your self to the gym for a little brain-clearing exercise!