It's Not Just Baby Fat!

Straight talk on emotional eating and weight control in kids and adults

Does this make my butt look big?

Hating the way you look can harm your daughter

Are you struggling with your weight? Are you an intermittent dieter always dissatisfied with the way your body looks? Like many women, you might make negative comments about your body or seek reassurance that you are loveable despite your body's imperfections.

Surveys suggest that more than 90% of American women are dissatisfied with their looks and often it's body shape or weight that is the source of the unhappiness. Even if you are dissatisfied recognize that hating the way you look is not a useful weight loss strategy and, if you have a daughter, it's likely to have negative consequences for her.

Parents frequently lose sight of the influence they have on their children by modeling. It easy to see kids imitating their parents when they're young. Girls will want to put on makeup like mommy and boys will want shave like daddy. When kids get older, even if it isn't as obvious, your children still are observing your behavior and are influenced by what they see. If you have a daughter, is she is picking-up on your dissatisfaction with your body? Is she starting to think she's too fat? Although it's not your intention, you may be teaching her to dislike her body.

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Regardless of her weight, your child should feel good about her body. When a child is unhappy with her body the risk of binge eating increases as well as the likelihood of developing an eating disorder. Even if there isn't an increase in disturbed eating, body dissatisfaction affects a child's self-esteem and overall psychological wellbeing. It's hard to feel good about yourself if you hate your body. Having a negative body image makes it more likely that your child will withdraw from activities like athletics or dancing that draw attention to her body and would make her feel self-conscious. Regardless of weight, your child should like his or her body. You can help your child by modeling a healthy respect for your own body despite its' real or imagined flaws.

Research at the University of Vermont demonstrated that overweight women who learned to like their bodies did not gain weight. Liking your body doesn't require that you abandon all efforts to become fit or loose weight. You can feel good about your body and still be motivated to lose weight in order to improve your health or to feel more comfortable doing things that are difficult at a heavier weight. For example, at one of my workshops, a participant told me she wanted to lose weight so she could have fun playing with her granddaughter. Learning to like her body didn't lessen her motivation to work on her eating and exercise habits.

While you are working on your feelings about your body, make sure that your daughter doesn't hear you disparage it. For example, if someone compliments you about your appearance, instead of responding, "Yes, but I still have ___ pounds to lose" a better response would be a simple, "Thanks." Let your daughter hear you express pride in your appearance even if you still would like to lose weight. Instead of just focusing on the body part that is most troublesome, pay equal attention to your features that are attractive and let your child hear you express appreciation for them. You can be pleased about a new hairstyle or outfit or acknowledge that you have a nice smile or pretty eyes. You don't need to be boastful, just let your daughter hear you taking pride in some aspect of your appearance regardless of your weight.

Learning to like your body may take time but even if you are having difficulty putting aside negative the thoughts, it's important that you don't share them with your daughter.

 

 

Edward Abramson, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, the author of It's NOT Just Baby Fat! and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at California State University.

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