I love this site. I was a teacher for many years. Nutrition and Health Education were my majors and I tried to weave in these topics to everything I taught. I do have one comment about body image and self-acceptance. I absolutely want every girl to feel self-love and confidence. But it makes me uncomfortable to relay the message that it is 100% fine for very heavy girls to think or believe that it is perfectly fine to be grossly overweight and they shouldn’t change a bit because they are “fine as they are.” It is not fine…. it is very unhealthy and will lead to many dire health conditions as they get older. There must be a way to convey that it is important to take health into consideration but not allow others to make them feel less of a person while they work towards the goal of a healthy weight.
I know it is not politically correct to say it but obesity is an epidemic in our children and I hear parents use the excuse that there is nothing wrong with their child’s weight…. that others should respect that she is fine with her “body image” or that they love her and accept her the way she is. It absolves them from dealing with the real issue…. what THEY are feeding her and the effort it does take to buy and prepare healthy foods. I’d love some discussion on this topic.
If you truly want “every girl to feel self-love and confidence” – it starts with you. As a counselor and educator, I am not in the business of judging students or parents. I wholeheartedly believe that if we don’t help instill self-worth, value, and love in our youth it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for them to break unhealthy patterns should it become necessary to do so. This goes for everything. Shame is never the answer.
I’ve never worked with an overweight teenage girl (or any teenage girl for that matter) who wasn’t keenly aware of her weight.
You are correct; the obesity epidemic leads to a variety of other life-threatening diseases. However, I am not a medical doctor and cannot determine someone’s health status by looking at them and neither can you. I also don’t think that accepting children, as is, “absolves them from dealing with the real issue.” I feel quite the contrary, in fact. I’ve never worked with an overweight teenage girl (or any teenage girl for that matter) who wasn’t keenly aware of her weight. Regardless of size, we are all constantly bombarded with toxic messages to remind us something is “wrong with our bodies.” That message is false and everyone deserves to feel content in the skin they’re in.
Also, I have no idea where you work or the socioeconomic status of your students, but please consider the fact that eating healthy is expensive and a privilege. Many families reside in food deserts and don’t have access to “healthy” foods. I live in Richmond VA, the home of the most grocery stores in the nation per capita. Despite this fact, our city is also considered a food desert. Meaning families without transportation to said hundreds of grocery stores don’t have access to what you and I do. And, access doesn’t equal options.
At Virginia Commonwealth University, we have an emergency food pantry to help students who struggle with food insecurity. It’s a national crisis that can’t be solved by simply educating others about nutrition and exercise. In addition, it’s quite presumptuous to assume that people can afford to eat healthier and/or exercise. Suggesting this to students and families who cannot afford to change creates a deep shame spiral. Well-meaning parents may not have the means or knowledge to intervene in the fashion you would.
You also wrote: “I hear parents use the excuse that there is nothing wrong with their child’s weight…. that others should respect that she is fine with her “body image” or that they love her and accept her the way she is.” I concur with and applaud these parents. In fact, I see more serious issues in my students with parents who are not as accepting.
Finally, you asked for discussion on this topic, so let’s talk about what we can do: we can abstain from judging others. Size is not a reflection of health. As educators, we can create a safe environment for all students to feel valued and appreciated. Once that environment is established it leaves the door open for students to talk about their feelings. Teens know who is safe and who is not. We can also weave discussions about wellness and health into curriculum topics; but again, loving yourself and your body should be at the core, and talking about these topics shouldn’t be laced with “shoulds” and judgment. Know your students and the path they are walking on, as it is their path, not yours. At the end of the day, people are just people. They are not sizes or shapes or numbers and should not be treated as such.
Julia V. Taylor is a school counselor and Ph.D. Candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, 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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We can talk about specific healthy habits rather than focusing on weight or size. For example: How many servings of fresh fruits and vegetables do you eat per day? How much soda do you consume? How often do you eat fried foods, fast food, and desserts? How often do you exercise? Walking is free. Organic fruits and veggies may be expensive, but regular carrots and apples are really not. Potatoes and rice and cheap. Beans are dirt cheap. We can talk to people about eating whole grain non-processed foods instead of fast food. We can talk about eating bananas and oranges instead of chips, ice cream, and candy. Choosing water instead of soft drinks (water is cheaper). These habits have nothing to do with body image or socioeconomics. They have to do with education and a commitment to health.
There are also people for whom “losing weight” is a losing battle because of hormones and metabolism issues. Sometimes the most ideal diet and regular exercise is just not going to work. (Although healthy habits are important in their own right.)
Julia – I disagree with some of your answers here. You imply that only a medical doctor can “look” at someone to determine their health status. I am a medical doctor, but I believe anyone can look at an obese person and know that they are not as healthy as they would be if they were not obese. There is no such thing as “healthy obesity”. This is an oxymoron. You also say “size is not a reflection of health.”. I think this is an incorrect and dangerous statement. Size is one of many reflections of health and a very accurate one at that. Obesity is killing our teens. We have the first generation of children who are not expected to outlive their parents.
Thank you for this wonderful answer.
Julia, you never cease to amaze me. Spot on.
Love this Julia Taylor! I couldn’t agree more with your entire post. Girls and women alike are shown images of what we”should” look like from such a young age that this student is definitely aware of her body. Many, if not, all women can not uphold these unrealistic and rigid standards of beauty set by our society. Furthermore, healthy is a very ambiguous term. As educators it is not our place to judge our students, but to serve as positive role models and provide support to students when needed.
I would like to see all women come together and support one another when it comes to fostering a healthy body image. Strong women, empower women.