Eating disorders are complex illnesses, layered with elements of genetics, society, emotional resilience, environment, and more. We can’t prevent all of the layers, but as parents, we have a powerful opportunity to address as many as we possibly can.
Almost all children who develop eating disorders report a sense of needing to be thinner. Their disorder tells them that weight loss will result in them being a better, more attractive, and more lovable person.
Even if in your own home you have been able to maintain a body-neutral environment that honors body diversity and avoids tying morality to body shape, every time you leave the house, your child is bombarded by fat-shaming messages. From billboards to bus stops and next to the candy in the supermarket checkout aisle, your child is constantly getting overt messages that only one body type (thin) is acceptable.
We can’t control the advertising messages our children are exposed to, but we can control the conversation we have with them about what is appropriate messaging around body diversity.
Lecturing to kids about fat shaming might not be very helpful, but there are many ways that you can insert ideas into their heads without lecturing. We like to just make a comment every time we see fat shaming messages. Our kids groan, but they still hear us. We don’t need to force them to discuss this topic with us, but just the act of speaking up, and actively disagreeing with all of the public messages about weight loss can make a big impact on our kids. Here are some examples:
“How annoying – four white women, of which three are blonde, and all are skinny. Way to go, diversity! It really bothers me that they put this stuff right next the the candy. It’s like: feel bad about yourself, now eat a bunch of sugar. WTF?”
“Ummmm … lady, you should breathe. For goodness sake! You look practically dead!”
“Why do those people look like robots? And who forced the robots to wear bikinis? For goodness sake, it’s disturbing!”
“That doesn’t even make sense! We don’t eat whales, so why would going vegetarian save whales? Also, I know a lot of vegetarians who have all sorts of body types. Vegetarianism is not about weight loss, people!”
The most important part is not actually what you say, but the fact that you present an active voice against fat shaming in our society.
Ginny Jones is the editor of More-Love.org. She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Ginny is also a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.