Sunday, April 18, 2010

What do we tell our daughters?

An interesting article in this week's times magazine (one of many- the entire issue is devoted to health & wellness, with food and exercise featured) asked how we handle the paradox of telling our daughters both that they are beautiful the way they are, and that they need to "watch their size" for their health?

I don't have a daughter of my own, but as a teacher (and wellness.... advocate?) I have thought about this a lot in regards to my female students. 40% of our girls in grades 1-5 report being on some type of diet- these are girls between the ages of 6 and 10- and they are dieting, and this trend continues right into adulthood, when today, 50% of American women are on a diet at all times.

As disturbing as this is, it is perhaps even more so to realize that depending on race, between 30-40% of our girls under 19 are overweight. 17% are obese.

To say our food habits with our children- and ourselves-are disordered is an understatement.

I don't have easy answers- but I think it might start by telling our girls the following messages:

1. You don't need a thinner body, you need a healthier, stronger body. And we can ALL, forever, work toward that goal, regardless of where we begin.

2. You do not need to go on a diet, you need to change your diet, and be aware of what you eat and how it makes you feel.

These are the new rules I've been living by, and these are rules that I do not feel conflict. When I eat well, I feel good about myself. When I work out, I feel healthy and strong. I might always have some wobbly bits- that's just who I am. I am never going to be 5'11 and weigh 117 lbs (the average model height and weight)- but then again, neither will the other 98% of all women. Short of being stretched on a rack, those extra 7 inches in height just aren't coming my way. But I can do pushups, I can run for about 10 minutes straight- and I can twist myself into one sexy little pretzel. I'd like to do more. I want our daughters and students to see role models living in a new reality, where healthy is beautiful. I want moms, and friends, and aunties- to sell a new message of womanhood.

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