By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
February 27, 2013
(from our panel of staff contributors)
As the father of three grown daughters, it's important to get a message across to them early and often: Body type is unimportant. Despite what the kids say at school, what the media bombards them with, what they hear and see from friends on social media, it is an unacceptable way to judge people and to be judged. With that in place as Rule 1, it will be easier to put the inevitable comparisons — and resulting hard feelings and disappointments — in perspective. This should be on the same level as skin color or religion or nationality: It is who we are, and is not a basis for judging someone.
I would turn the typical insecurity on its head by sharing the experience of my sister, who was teased as "chicken legs" when she was young because she was so thin. But she went on to become one of the fastest runners on the track team. Whatever your body type, you can make the most of it. A sturdy girl may become a great gymnast or something that has nothing to do with physicality, except inasmuch as her body is healthy enough to provide fuel for her passion. That's a great gift, and one we all so often take for granted until we hear about a child who's fighting cancer or injured in an accident.
Topic A, of course, is each girl's health.
"I'm not going to suggest just telling a girl, 'You look great!' when we know how serious it can be to start out with a weight problem as a kid," says Debra Moffitt, editor at KidsHealth.org and founder of The Pink Locker Society, a series of tween-centric books.
"At the same time, if both girls are healthy, I think you come up with a healthy mantra: 'People have all different body types. You're healthy and you're healthy and you both look great,'" Moffitt suggests. "Whenever the topic comes up, it becomes very natural for the parent to respond with that and hopefully it imprints on the girls. It's not a hot spot or a source of tension."
Make sure you're applying the same nutrition and eating guidelines to both girls — guided, of course, by their health. You don't want to allow (or push) dessert, for example, for the smaller daughter and forbid it for the other.
"The habits of the family should be universal," Moffitt says. "Same meals, same plentiful amounts of activity. Food shouldn't be doled out as a treat to one and a punishment to the other. It's not going to hurt anyone to eat more healthfully, so maybe you decide to leave certain foods out of the house altogether."
And tap into the parts of our culture that encourage girls to embrace their shapes, regardless of how different that shape is from what appears on a magazine cover.
"It's a good time to be having these conversations because there is really a movement to celebrate more realistic bodies, from Dove's real beauty campaign to Amy Poehler's Smart Girls at the Party, whose motto is 'Change the world by being yourself,'" Moffitt says. "When you saturate yourself with that part of our culture, the less these other things pull you down."
Finally, take note of the messages you send about your own body.
"Moms shouldn't be criticizing their own bodies to their daughters," she says. "We want to be a little more strategic with our feelings about our bodies, and the messages we send our daughters because we know they're susceptible to go down that really painful road of depression and eating disorders. We want to nip that in the bud."
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