It’s mid November, Thanksgiving is next week (YAY!), and that means the holiday season is right upon us. Soon enough we will be surrounded by family, friends, and communities celebrating. Seeing family and friends might mean spending time with kids you don’t see on a regular basis. This makes me think…
Awhile back I came across this article, and now I think back to it every time I interact with my own young family members or neighbors and friends. The first time I read the post, it really struck a chord. It addresses the way we talk to little girls and how we often focus on their appearance. It made me realize that I, like so many of us, can easily be swept up in the cuteness of little girls. It’s easy to compliment their clothes or their hair, but is that really what we want girls to be proud of? Every comment on a little girl’s image is perpetuating the problem.
I have been getting involved with a great group at school that promotes eating disorder awareness and holds trainings on becoming an ally to those battling EDs. One of my favorite parts of the training is about “fat talk/muscle talk”. It is such a challenge to stop that. How many times have you heard a friend say “I feel fat” “I look so fat” “I can’t wear this”? How many times have you said those things yourself? For me, I know it’s more than once. Now raise your hand if you think these comments contribute to a positive body image….yea, I didn’t think so. We know these things are negative, so why do we say them? We’ve been conditioned. Society places so much focus on appearance that it sometimes seems impossible not to obsess over our looks. We pick up on it, and so do kids.
In the trainings I’ve attended (and will soon be leading!) on campus, we talk about changing body comments to focus on other things. Tell your friend how happy she looks in a picture instead of how “skinny” she looks. Tell someone they put forth an amazing effort instead of that they put on a great outfit. This language can help those struggling with body image, and it can also prevent the problem.
Imagine if girls (and all kids for that matter!) grew up hearing praise for their intelligence, their effort, their intellectual interests, their hobbies, and all the other amazing things that kids do! Our focus on bodies and appearance in general starts young, so we have to reverse it before it starts.
Here’s what I now try to do during holiday gatherings, and what I hope you can try too. When you see your little nieces, nephews, cousins, or neighbors, ask them about school. Ask them what they have learned. Ask them what they are excited about. Ask them what they have created (kids are super creative!). Ask them to tell you a story. Ask them questions and engage them intellectually. Nobody likes to be patted on the head and brushed off as just ‘cute’ or ‘pretty‘, so try engaging and see what you learn. Encourage a new generation this holiday season.