Why do my friends and family explain their latest food philosophy to me? If I offer someone a slice of pizza, they explain that they are saving their gluten for weekends. What happened to, “No thank you?”
While I can manage myself, I am not sure how to protect my daughter from these ongoing comments without snapping back at the neighbors and in-laws who all want to enlighten us. My daughter is only nine and is already opting for a burger without a bun.
I don’t know why people feel the need to explain their latest food philosophy to anyone who will listen. But I’m with you, what happened to “no thank you?” Generally, people who do this are looking for validation. I see a lot of insecurity in women who feel the need to announce why they are not eating such and such or how fat they feel because they ate a particular food last night. It’s part of a larger cultural issue that has unfortunately trickled down to our youth. I’m sorry this situation has impacted you and your daughter.
I have three suggestions for the repeat offenders.
1. Highlight the impact on your daughter.
Speak to the food police privately and repeat precisely what you wrote to me: “Look, I value our friendship/relationship and you’re free to make whatever food choices you’d like, however, my daughter looks up to you and is now avoiding bread. Could you do me a favor and not talk about your food choices or diet in front of her?”
2. Don’t play into the script — change the subject.
Many women bond over surfaced, safe topics. If you don’t have a strong relationship with this person and don’t feel comfortable directly confronting the topic, try to interject during the policing process: “Let’s talk about something different” or interrupt and purposively change the subject in order for your intent to be glaringly obvious.
3. Share the impact of those comments on you.
You have a fortuitous opportunity to tell your daughter how you’re feeling about the entire situation, because unfortunately you are right – it is likely to happen over and over and over again. Whether she’s at another person’s house, at school, or watching TV, our society is saturated with confusing and conflicting messages about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” eat/wear/say/look like – etc.
Apologize to her for your friends and/or in-laws comments and share your concerns: “I’m sorry Maria made those comments about pizza, they obviously had an impact on you and I’m worried about you avoiding bread.” Debunk whatever myth she may respond with and have a frank talk with her about the dieting industry, body image, insecurities, etc. I believe the most important skill you can teach her in this situation is advocacy. Show her what advocacy looks like. Role play a script she can use to respond to comments and high five her when she does (privately, of course). It can be as simple as “Oh, I’m sorry you can only have pizza on the weekends, I love pizza!” or “I just eat what my body wants.” Sometimes, a little advocacy goes a long way.
Lastly, eight years later and I’m still in love with the Fat Talk Video produced by the Tri Delta Sorority. I suggest posting it on social media and let all of your friends know how you feel about this behavior. Also, Girls Leadership co-founder and executive director, Simone Marean, was just featured on Minnesota Public Radio in a show about body shaming tweens. Marean completely validates the reasons we need to proactively protect girls from these dangerous messages. It’s good.
Dr. Julia V. Taylor is a Counselor Educator at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. She is author of The Body Image Workbook for Teens, The Bullying Workbook for Teens, Salvaging Sisterhood, G.I.R.L.S: Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development, and a children’s book, Perfectly You. She can be reached at www.juliavtaylor.com
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