In the movie "Spanglish," the mother played by Tea Leoni is clearly obsessed with exercise and her looks. Her daughter, played by Sarah Steele, is not overweight, but clearly not thin enough to meet her mom's standards. Leoni tries to motivate her daughter to lose weight by going on shopping sprees and buying her beautiful clothing, but buying sizes too small for her to wear. When Steele sees the clothing she is excited, but as she tries on the clothes and none of them fit, you literally see her self-esteem tank.
"Between these types of movies, television shows and air-brushed photos in magazines showing women with 'perfect bodies', impressionable young girls get the idea that it just isn't acceptable to be anything but a size 6 or smaller," said Pamela Kelle, licensed nutritionist and registered dietitian. "What many don't realize is what they see on the screen isn't real. Their body was never intended to be that size, yet they go on fad diets and do all kinds of obsessive workout routines to get themselves down to their dream weight. The only problem is, even when they get to the size they wanted to be there is still this small voice inside saying, 'It's not good enough.' "
With the new year just around the corner many people, including teenagers, will resolve to lose weight in order to feel better about themselves. But, is it really about weight loss?
"In most instances I would have to say that losing weight is about a lot more than shedding pounds," said Kelle. "At every turn, sometimes even in the home, teens are bombarded with negative messages about how they look. I strongly encourage parents to be aware of how they talk about food and weight. Many parents talk negatively about their own looks. Teen girls pick up on this and often internalize it. If mom doesn't think she looks good, the daughter thinks she must not look good either. The goal for our kids should be overall health, not a certain weight."
If you own a scale, Kelle would tell you to get rid of it. None of us need a scale to know when we have put on a few pounds. The way your clothes fit tells you all you need to know.
The dietitian shares the following tips for parents as they seek to teach their children about healthy living and protect them from dangerous lies in culture.
* Encourage and model healthy eating and exercise.
* Provide healthy foods and nutritious meals consumed by the whole family.
* Do not praise or glorify someone for being a certain body size or losing weight.
* Don't talk negatively about your own body.
* Don't expect perfection.
Our bodies are the canvas upon which our internal conditions express themselves.
"Helping teens have healthy self-esteem and body image can be challenging in light of all the external messages they hear and see," said Kelle.
"Making your home a safe place where your teen can be real and talk about these issues will go a long way toward helping them fend off unhealthy habits. This is a gift that will last a lifetime."
Julie Baumgardner is the president and executive director of First Things First. Email her at email@example.com.