Watch What You Say
The way we talk about our babies can begin that person’s battle with self esteem, a battle they may wind up fighting every day of their life. Whether you and others make comments about the baby’s body weight, facial features, hair or temperament, it all gets soaked in and mixed into his or her sense of self.
Soon the child will begin to understand the importance of meeting the expectations of others, begin taking action to please others as a way of receiving love, turning the feedback they hear about themselves into their own behavior, and creating a dialog of self talk that reinforces what they’ve heard.
How Words Hurt
A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics (Journal of the American Medical Association) showed that young girls who are told they’re “too fat” by family and others are more likely to become obese later in life. The study followed more than 2,000 girls from age 10 to their 19th birthday, measuring their weight and height at the beginning and end of the study.
The girls were asked to choose from a list of people – father, mother, brother, sister, best friend, teacher – and identify if they had been told by any of them that they were “too fat.” About 57% of the participants said they had been labeled that way. By the end of the study, girls with the “too fat” label from family members at age 10 were 1.62 times more likely to be obese at age 19; those who carried the label from non-family members were 1.40 times more likely to be obese based on Body Mass Index at age 19.
UCLA graduate student Jeffrey Hunger, who coauthored the study, noted, “I think what’s important is a shift away from weight and more of a focus on health. We need to recognize and appreciate body diversity, that everybody’s body is different, and ‘fat’ is not an automatic indicator of bad health. It’s more about your fitness than your fatness.”
Watch How You Say It
If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, it’s important to walk a fine line when discussing it with him or her. Here are a few tips on going about it in a productive way:
- Be your child’s ally. Talk honestly about their health and make getting healthy – not thinner or heavier – a project you undertake together:
- Take cooking classes together and learn how to cook healthy foods
- Bring him/her along with you to the grocery store to make healthy selections
- Have the child set his or her own goals for walking or exercising, then join in if you’re invited along
- Find out if there’s a social problem that is factoring into your child’s overeating. Overweight kids may be socially isolated at school, or your child may be reacting to a problem at home, like marriage or financial issues. If identified, do your best to resolve the issue together or seek help from your health care professional.
- Be sure your child knows you love him/her no matter what their weight. The goal of parenting is to raise a well-balanced, happy person who is comfortable about themselves and knows they’re loved.
One of the most important things to remember is that children model behavior. If you’re hard on yourself, engage in negative self talk and compare your physique to others aloud, your child can only see that as acceptable behavior. And it simply is not. If you find yourself falling into the pattern of negative patter – “I’m so fat” or “I could never wear that” – stop yourself short and examine all the things that are good about yourself instead. It’s a behavior modification that will help reclaim your self esteem, and help you build a stronger foundation for your kids.
Nasty Is as Nasty Does
Are you uttering “the f word” too often? If you call someone “fat” you’re using a horrible, dirty word – and one that should be banned as strongly as other curse words.
Isn’t a natural part of being a teenager – not doing it or hearing it. Neither is acceptable and neither behavior is cool. In fact, a study was just released that showed calling someone “fat” now could cause them to become obese later in life. If you’re mocking someone because of how they look, it makes you look ugly – not them.
Trash Talking Friends
But “fat talk” is just as bad. It may feel like a bonding ritual, but fat talk actually chips away at your self esteem. Here are a few fat talk comments you and your friends might make when trying on clothes together: “OMG, do these pants make my thighs look huge, or what!” or “I can’t wear skinny jeans until I lose five pounds.
Why is fat talk so bad? It makes you feel bad about your body, makes your friends feel bad about their bodies, encourages you all to compare your bodies, and can even spark eating disorders. Moreover, fat talk puts you and your friends in a position where being honest can be hurtful. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Accentuate the Positive
To break the cycle, don’t make fat talk comments and don’t engage in a reply when someone else starts fat talking. Just change the subject. And if you find yourself looking in the mirror and talking trash about yourself, try to replace that conversation with one or more of the following self-esteem affirmations. After all, you’re your own best friend forever – no matter what size clothes you wear.
Repeat your affirmation for about five minutes three times a day. Start by saying it in the mirror in the morning, repeat it at lunchtime (or write it out while you eat), and go through it again as you lie in bed at night. Soon you’ll believe your affirmation and feel better about yourself, your body and your life.
- I choose to feel positive about myself
- I choose to think positively about myself
- I choose to stop feeling inadequate
- I choose to stop comparing myself to others
- I have a right to stop feeling bad about myself
- I have a right to believe in myself
- I choose to stop feeling inferior to others