“Mama, sometimes I think I’m f-a-t.” She spelled it as if it were a bad word. It was nearing ten o’clock and she had to get to sleep, but my world stopped. My priorities shifted and I lay down to listen to her worries about not being stick thin like her friend, Mara. They had put their costumes on for their approaching dance recital that day. Mara is naturally tall, lanky and nearly a year older than my almost-7-year-old. I tried to diffuse her concerns as she wrapped her hands around her calf, drawing her leg back into a twig-like appendage. “It would look better like that.”
My heart dropped and I tried to reason with her, attempting to keep my internal pleas out of my voice. “It’s shapely. It wouldn’t hold you up without the muscle. It’s perfect.” On and on I went assuring her, but more reassuring myself.
When does yearning to be skinny start? I hadn’t expected to deal with it this soon, if at all, since we live in a world where bigger bodies are not just accepted, but celebrated. Plus-sizes abound now as companies aim to keep up with demand. Larger ladies lace the pages of magazines, selling items from lingerie to soap. Bigger mannequins dot the floors of stores in support of the ever-popular HAES movement (health at every size).
Baby Body ImageResearch from the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) has reported that 47 percent of child caretakers have witnessed anxieties about body image in children aged 6 to 10 years old and 71 percent believe children are becoming anxious about their bodies at a younger age.
In surprising discoveries by the Common Sense Media, it was reported that more than half of girls and one-third of boys as young as ages 6 to 8 say their ideal weight should be lower than it is. By the age 7, one in four kids has embarked on weight loss behavior. Is it any wonder, since 87 percent of female characters on television between the ages of 10 and 17 are below average weight? Obsessed with Barbies for years as a kid, I remember some factoid reporting that if Barbie have been real, she wouldn’t have been able to carry her own weight on her tiny little legs and feet.
Of course, it comes from us as parents as well. Our kids may not listen to us when we ask them to do something, but they certainly listen to every other little thing we say from the beginning. While I was careful not to yearn to be thinner in front of Madds, when she was about 3, my husband pointed out my sighs and furrowed brow at times when I met my reflection in the mirror. “She’s listening to you,” he said, firmly, “you can’t say mean things about yourself in front of her.”
He was spot-on, so I immediately turned it around. Instead of mentally poking and prodding my areas that needed improvement, I began to make bold claims about my appearance. The more declarations I made, the more real they felt.
“Look at my body — look how great I look! Wow — my legs are amazing! My arms are perfect!” Now that I had gotten going, I didn’t want to stop! “I mean look at my butt … ” My husband ushered me away from the mirror, but I had finally experienced what it meant to do those cheesy affirmations people love. Inadvertently, I had boosted my confidence, my mood and my feelings about myself with thoughts I didn’t know existed … in front of my daughter, no less.
So often we spend time affirming the negative thoughts we have about ourselves during our daily visits with the mirror, but it doesn’t take much to shift the conversation, especially if we’re having it in front of our little ones.
Plastic ProblemsKids’ newly budding body images can be conflicted when some friends mature earlier than others. To complicate matters, children are growing up more quickly than they used to. It often feels like the years speed by more and more rapidly, but, as reported by the New York Times late last month, kids around the globe are experiencing an earlier onset of puberty. This not only leads to some tough conversations with younger (less prepared) participants, but it’s thought to lead to breast and uterine cancer in adulthood. A higher risk of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety among many others has also been associated with early puberty.
There’s little argument nowadays that obesity contributes to earlier puberty, but it doesn’t account for all of it. One plausible contributor is a group of endocrine-disrupting plastics called phthalates. As we add these to our long list of “things to avoid,” it may be tougher to dodge these chemicals than we think. Phthalates are found everywhere, from plastic bottles and food packaging to soaps, shampoos and clothing. They’re practically unavoidable. In a 2009 study, phthalates were detected at high levels in the urine belonging to the participants with the earliest breast development. As if this weren’t shocking enough, the truth is: they’re present in nearly all of us.
Aside from being a potential catalyst for growing up too soon, phthalates have been linked to a host of other conditions such as cancer, neurodevelopmental and behavioral issues, Type 2 diabetes, hyperactivity, autism and infertility in both men and women.
To-Do ListBefore we hit the panic button, remember that our bodies have a natural system that purifies toxins from our blood. To avoid phthalates as much as possible, scan labels for DHEP or DiBP. These acronyms indicate the presence of chemicals belonging to the phthalate family. Many of them have been banned from toys for children under 3, but glass bottles and a stainless-steel sippy cup is always preferable. Look for “phthalate-free” on labels and be sure to microwave in glass containers, rather than plastic, even if they are labeled “microwave safe.”
High-fat meats and dairy are said to be higher in phthalates and people who ate a lot of fast food were found to have a higher presence of phthalates in their urine, which is likely from the to-go containers.
Here is a recipe to help us continue to avoid those chemicals.
Red Lentil Dosa (Lentil Wraps)
1 cup red lentils
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
Soak lentils in a bowl of water overnight.
Rinse and drain lentils, adding to a blender.
Add cup of fresh water and salt. Blend until smooth.
On a hot griddle, heat some olive oil.
Spoon a ladleful of batter onto griddle and distribute into a thin, even pancake.
Allow to cook for two to three minutes until golden brown, flipping once.
Use in place of chemical-laden tortillas or wraps.