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The Hidden Message Nobody is Discussing: Sports Illustrated, Cheryl Tiegs and Ashley Graham

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A few days ago, social media was atwitter with comments about the new Sports Illustrated cover featuring plus-model Ashley Graham. Cheryl Tiegs, former SI swimsuit model had criticized the magazine for putting Ashley Graham on the cover. Tiegs, who is now 68 years old, said;

“I don’t like that we’re talking about full-figured women because it’s glamorizing them because your waist should be smaller than 35 (inches)…That’s what Dr. Oz said, and I’m sticking to it. No, I don’t think it’s healthy. Her face is beautiful. Beautiful. But I don’t think it’s healthy in the long run.”

People took sides. Some agreed, while others applauded Sports Illustrated and underscored that health can come in many sizes. But as the media storm showcased the groups that either supported or disputed Cheryl’s words, an unsaid truth laid buried beneath the surface. It was on my professional Facebook page, where we, too, were discussing the new Sports Illustrated model,  that this truth was beautifully stated by a long term personal friend of mine—and I’d like to share it with you: Read more

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Evolution of Another Body Image Conversation with my Daughter

MonsterHighMy daughter is rounding the corner to age seven in February and if there is one thing I’ve discovered in the time that I’ve been her mother, it’s that all “big talks” are really just a series of small conversations about big issues. Body image is no exception.

Since I talk about body image in many of my presentations and keynote addresses, it’s no surprise that this is a hot button issue for me. I want my daughter to feel confident AND also know how to discern negative messages that come to us in the smallest, most benign-seeming packages. Studies tell us that consistent exposure to images, videos and other media that show extremely thin, unrealistic depictions of girls and women, can have an adverse effect on the body image, self image, attitudes and feelings of girls (and boys as well!).

Many parents and caring adults (mentors, teachers, family members) who have contact with girls (and boys!) often ask me for examples of specific conversations I’ve had with my own children so they can see how to have one of these small conversations that can make a big difference. Of course, your own presence, interest and love will come out in your own words. As I often say, “be ready!” These conversations can sneak up on you. AND if you aren’t quite ready– just tell your child; “I want to think about my answer for a little bit because it’s important– and I will get back to  you later on today. OK?” Then, make sure to follow up! And, if you missed an opportunity or you wish you said something else– no worries! There is no expiration date on do-overs! We all need them. :-)

Here’s how my conversation went with my own daughter yesterday and today:

T, age 6 3/4, looking at a toy catalog: Mommy? Why don’t you like Monster High Dolls?
Me: Well, I don’t like that all of the dolls have the same, very unrealistically thin body that nobody would ever have in real life. Also, they are extremely made-up and the outfits aren’t appropriate as they are very short and tight. I wish they looked and acted more like real girls who all look different–girls who have healthy bodies of all different shapes and sizes– with kind faces rather than all those mean scowls all the time.
Later that day…
T: I did realize one positive about Monster High Dolls, Mommy. They come in different colors.
Me: Yes, I like that too. Because we are all different colors, aren’t we?
This morning…
T: You know Mommy, you’re right. These Monster High Dolls have the skinniest legs that nobody could ever really have. They look weird and then they have these big feet in very high heels that you can’t do anything in ever. They should make them look more like real girls. ‘Cause that would make sense!

Bingo.

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Can TopShop Ultra Thin Mannequins Affect Body Image of Girls & Women? Dr. Robyn Silverman on Good Morning America

I was interviewed for Good Morning America on Topshop’s decision to discontinue ordering ultra thin mannequins for their stores.

Note: I love doing these segments. However, due to the short length of the segment, my quotes were GMA_Berry_mannequins_size_800_400spliced for time-sake and the initial sentence didn’t exactly reflect how I feel about the possible effects of mannequin size on body image. Whoops! So let me clarify! I do not feel that exposure to thin mannequins leads to poor body image. I do feel that repeated exposure to very thin models, very thin mannequins and messaging about the merits of dieting and thinness can have effects on the body image of many girls and women (my original quote). You’ll see more on my view below!


ABC US News | World News

Can mannequin size have an effect on body image?

For some people, yes. Of course we all know that mannequins are not real. However, studies tell us that when girls and women are repeatedly exposed to very thin body standards in the media, on models or on mannequins, it can affect their body image, self esteem and eating practices—and interestingly, even their pension to buy.

The reality is that mannequins don’t just sell clothes. They inform beauty ideals, weight standards and fashion trends that tell people what they should aspire to in order to be considered beautiful and Read more

Louis C.K.’s “Fat Girl” Scene Strikes a Cord with Women Everywhere

Last week, I was on Good Morning America to talk about Louis C.K.’s now famous “Fat Girl” scene in which actress Sarah Baker, gives a unique and honest perspective about being “a fat-girl in her 30s living in New York City.” And while some still complained that the scene was far from perfect, others found it “absolutely magnificent.”  Vanessa, the character played by Baker, simply put her opinions out there, without sadness or apology, and said what was on her mind.

GMA_mayphoto_800_400_cropWhy did it strike such a nerve?

In short; when we are used to seeing fantasy, photoshop and fabrication of the truth, a little raw honesty goes a long, long way.  The character of Vanessa is vivacious, smart, interesting and beautiful and she tells Louis without any self pity, be honest with me, be honest with yourself and realize by saying “you’re not fat,” you discount me, you refuse to see me and you join the legions of others who stereotype because of my weight.  Being “fat” doesn’t take away a person’s gifts and strengths.  Being plus-size and amazing are not mutually exclusive.  Can’t she just be who she is and still be loved and celebrated?

What does this segment tell men?

This 7 minute segment tells men to (1) break the bond between the term fat and the ugly stereotypes that are unfairly associated with it, (2) hang up your hang ups and be with the person who you like and who brings out the best in you and (3) realize that the problem of stereotyping women is not just a woman problem, it’s everyone’s problem—don’t be another of society’s lemmings, be part of the solution.

What’s one thing we can take from this scene?

People aren’t seeing themselves reflected in the media and this is warping our concept of what is normal. I think society needs to see and hear from someone who so obviously breaks the stereotype, that everyone is worthy of being loved, everyone of us brings something important to the table and “fat” and “thin” are simply descriptors of body types not of worth or character.

Brief aside: I really enjoyed doing this segment on Good Morning America.  And an extra perk?  I met theJimParsonsBBT enormously talented Jim Parsons that day who was also there.  Bonus!  Or should I say, Bazinga!

Now back to Louis C.K.  What did you think of the segment?

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Lorde of the Tweets: Lorde tells fans it’s ok to have flaws

On Good Morning America this morning, we talked about Grammy-winner, Lorde and her most recent viral tweet that showed two photos.  One photo showed Lorde with flawless skin, photoshopped to perfection.  The other photo showed Lorde completely natural, skin imperfections and all.

Lorde & body positive tweet

Why is this significant? Lorde is a superstar with millions of fans.  And in a society that often makes you feel like you’re not good enough as you are and that celebrities just walk around like the picture of perfection, Lorde’s voice is refreshing. She all at once tells us that we all have flaws, she’s not perfect and that we are all OK just as we are.

Is her message for girls or can it apply to boys as well? We know the pressure that girls are under to look a certain way. Lorde is a great role model for girls because she embraces her flaws. But I think this is something everyone needs to hear in a society that often makes you feel that you need to be photoshopped before you walk out in public.

What can moms do for girls who might be self conscious? I was presenting on the power of media messaging just last night and here are some Read more

Heavy choices: Would you put your 7 year old on a diet?

This morning I was on the set up for a segment on Dara-Lynn Weiss- the mother who was made famous for publicly putting her daughter, age 7, on a diet. Her daughter’s doctor had told Dara-Lynn that her daughter was obese and was immediately put on a strict diet of limited foods and counting calories.

What would you do in the same situation? It’s a difficult choice. Clearly the doctor was concerned about the child’s health and we are all too familiar with the psychological repercussions of children, dieting and weight stereotyping.

Every parent wants their children to grow up healthy and happy. So it’s not surprising that when a parent hears their children’s weight is compromising their health, that they jump into action . But parents need to tread lightly here. Whatever you say to your children about weight and diet will provide the template for how those children will regard weight and diet for the rest of their lives. Will they see food as a delicious way to gain energy and health or will they view food as the enemy?

There are so many messages that tell children that they are not good enough the way that they are— we don’t want to convey a value judgment when it comes to food and weight, but rather, teach our children that when we eat in healthy ways, we gain the energy we need to live our best life. I believe we can change a child’s relationship with food without putting a child on a “diet” – do you?

Take a look at the segment. What do YOU think? If you were this mother, would you choose the same path or would you do something different?

TV Anchor, Jennifer Livingston, Called Fat: Fights Back Against Her Body Bully

(Note; My Today Show Health Report Interview on this topic included below)

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The internet blew up yesterday with applause for Jennifer Livingston, a TV anchor in Wisconsin, who spoke out about fat hatred and what I call, “body bullying” after receiving a derogatory email from a viewer about her weight.

The viewer’s email read;

“Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”

Jennifer fired back with a very thoughtful, stern and directed response.

“The internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become a battleground. And this behavior is learned – it is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that e-mail. If you were at home talking about the fat news lady – guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat. We need to teach our kids how to be kind – not critical and we need to do that by example. So many of you have come to my defense over the past four days.

To my colleagues and friends from today and from years ago…my family, my amazing husband and so many of you out there that I will probably never have the opportunity to meet – I will never be able to thank you enough for you words of support. And for taking a stand against this bully. We are better than that e-mail. We are better than the bullies that would try to take us down.

And I leave you with this… to all the children out there who feel lost…who are struggling with your weight, the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability – even the acne on your face…listen to me right now. Do not let your self worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience that the the cruel words of one…are nothing compared to the shouts of many.”

I was interviewed by the Today Show Health Report about this incident.

Livingston’s move is a step toward civility in a society that thinks a woman’s weight is fair game, said Dr. Robyn Silverman, a body image expert and author of the book “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It.”

“I applaud her for her response,” Silverman said. “It was a very responsible response.”

We’ve become a “fault-finding” society where it’s acceptable to make snarky comments about anyone, but especially those in the public eye, Silverman said.

When Livingston stood up to the mean-spirited viewer, she was helping combat the messages that say it’s OK to judge people based on weight.

“We send the message to our children that they are not good enough, they are not valuable enough, unless they look a certain way,” Silverman said.

While the fat-shaming speaks volumes to the girls and young women today who must constantly hear these messages wherever they go, it wasn’t the direct slams on Livingston’s weight that frustrated her the most.

On the Today Show this morning, Livingston told Savannah Guthrie;

“I can deal with being called fat … with being called obese. It was calling me a bad role model that rubbed me the wrong way, and not only a bad role model for our community, but for young girls, in particular.”

Young girls need to see and hear that they can be and do whatever they dream of in life– that their determination, hard work, smarts and talents will put them in the forefront- no matter what their weight, size, height or overall appearance.  We need more women (and men) like Jennifer Livingston who stand up and tell the world that they are worthy just the way they are– and that bullies should not and will not define them.  But they especially need to hear that as girls and young women, that they are valuable too– that they set their own path and their own definition of worth.  Jennifer Livingston did just that– and for that, I truly applaud her.

Yes, she certainly seems like a role model to me.

Dr. Robyn on The Today Show: Vintage Ads Say Thin was Not Always In

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These days, the word “fat” comes with a lot of baggage.  Studies tell us that fat is continually associated with unflattering words like lazy, ugly, blameworthy, gross, and unpopular.  But it wasn’t always that way.  If you look at some of the vintage ads, thin was definitely NOT always in.

“Enjoy life!” “Put on 5 pounds of flesh!” “Left out because you’re too skinny?” Vintage ads paint the picture that full-figured women were the beauty standard of their era.

Over the last 100 years the celebrated standard of body beauty in advertising has morphed from one that was more voluptuous (signifying vitality, wealth, and happiness) to one that is thin (signifying, sometimes erroneously, health, perfection and self control). In the early part of the 20th century actresses and models demonstrated the voluptuous trend—prompting beauty products and subsequent advertising to address the desire to put ON weight. Things changed dramatically in the 60s with the introduction of Twiggy, in the 80s with the fitness craze (think Jane Fonda), the 90s with the introduction of the waif, and now, we still receive messages (and the studies reflect this), that to be thin is to be beautiful, sexy, controlled, successful and good. Beauty products and advertising has followed suit.

These days it seems that people say the word “fat” like they are spitting it out on a plate.  This can be really confusing and upsetting for young girls who are going through puberty—a time when it’s very normal and natural to gain an average of 25 pounds! As a young girl or women is gaining weight, many look at it as “getting fat.” It’s common that people bemoan ‘I feel fat” or call themselves ugly names like “whale,,” “pig,” or “heifer.”

What would it have been like to live at a time when people thought it was more beautiful to be buxom that thin? Or is the pressure the same whether it’s to be thin or to gain weight in order to fit in?

It seems like a lot more women would have fit the ideal standard if we weren’t told that we all needed to be impossibly thin to be considered attractive. But then, naturally thin women would have been left out to the definition of beauty.

At the end of the day, it still comes down to marketing. As long as there has been women’s beauty products and advertising, there have been (and there will be) messages that tell girls and women that they are not good enough, not beautiful enough, and not worthy enough unless they buy these products…and use them.

How do you think it would impact YOU and the women in your life if their was pressure to gain weight rather than lose it?

 

 

 

International Women’s Day: What Stands in the Way of More Women Leaders?

It’s International Women’s Day—a day to reflect on the amazing women and girls in our lives but also to ponder what’s to come for the up and coming women in the world.

As the mother of a young girl and a speaker who works with girls and women with regard to leadership, confidence, mentoring, and the barriers that stand in our way, I see so much potential in today’s girls.  Yet, I think there is some work to do in order to help them to become the leaders they are meant to be.

We know that there is still an imbalance when it comes to the number of women vs men in leadership positions. This is true in business as well as in government.  Women have a great deal to offer but many are not taking their rightful place in this world—which for many, is in front…leading the pack.

How do potential women leaders stand in their own way of success?

(1) Pleasing others instead of pleasing ourselves:  Many girls and women are known “people pleasers.” They want to be liked. They want to be admired. They want to feel useful.  And while there is nothing wrong with being liked, admired, and useful—many girls and women will sacrifice what they want in order to “do” for others.  Leaders do what is right and what is needed- but they also follow their own bliss.  They assume their rightful place in this world not because others put them there or others don’t want the job but because they are doing exactly what they were meant to do.  When a girl or woman follows her our own bliss, they are always in the lead. Nobody can usurp the position that has someone else’s name on it.

(2) Perception of ceiling: We’ve heard for years about a glass ceiling that is impenetrable by women in business.  But every time I hear something like that, I think of Roger Bannister, a runner who was told it was impossible to run a 4-minute mile.  It had never been done! And then he did it. Immediately following, others did it. I think if we sell ourselves and our daughters a bill of goods that this ceiling exists, they will believe it.  What they believe is what they will see.  Leaders don’t look at ceilings—they look at what’s beyond it.

(3) Distraction: Girls receive hundreds of messages each day telling them that they need to look and act a certain way if they are going to be deemed worthy by others.  Questions loom in their heads; Am I thin enough? Too ugly?  Read more

No Fat Talk! 10 Tips for a Fat-Talk Free Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my family’s favorite holiday. Is it one of yours too? There’s something so powerful about a holiday that everyone celebrates in America because it is part of American culture, not religion.  But you know what can really ruin a good holiday meal? Fat Talk.

Hold the Fat Talk! 10 Tips for a Fat (Talk) Free Holiday Dinner

A collaborative body image article by Dr. Robyn Silverman & Dr. Lynne Kenney

With Thanksgiving on Thursday and many of the major holidays right around the corner, expectations run high. The grand dinner, the family gathering and…who’s done what since the last get together. You know what I mean. Who’s dating and who’s been dumped. Whose daughter was accepted early to the best program and who is licking her wounds?

And of course, who’s gained weight.

The comparisons slip off the tongue as easily as the marshmallows are stolen off the sweet potato casserole. It easily, seamlessly, and expectantly becomes part of the dinner conversation. Between bites, stares of “should you be eating that” meld with apologies for eating too much and promises to be “good” at dessert time. Each plate is then served with a hefty heaping of shame, blame, and naming names of those relatives or celebrities who are or are not adhering to the narrow definition of what is considered the standard of beauty these days. Is this really what Holiday Dinners are supposed to be about?

Fat-Talk-Free Holiday Tips

It’s time to take control of our holidays instead of allowing Fat Talk into the driver’s seat. Dr. Robyn Silverman and Dr. Lynne Kenney give you the tips to make your Holiday a positive experience where everyone involved can come away feeling good, strong, powerful, and supported.

Dr. Robyn Says…

(1) Declare the Holiday Table a Fat Talk Free Zone: In Good Girls Don’t Get Fat, I talk about establishing a Fat Talk Free Zone in order to take charge of what kind of “talk” you surround yourself with on a daily basis. Holidays, of course, are special occasions and times when we see people who aren’t in our every lives. While it may take guts, ask your guests (YES, your mother-in-law too!) to join you in making this holiday a positive one where you build people up rather than tear them (including yourself!) down. Hang it right on the door or by the Holiday Table; “You are now entering the Fat Talk Free Zone!”

(2) Don’t forget what Holiday Family Dinners are really all about: When you think of the true meaning of your holiday get togethers, they’re really about love, family, friends, and gratitude, right? I mean, what happened to the “Thanks” part of Thanksgiving? If we can focus on what we have—our strengths, our assets, and our support system—instead of what we lack, our Holiday dinners will surely be more enjoyable…and something to fondly look forward to and remember.

(3) Remember what Your Mama told you (if you can’t say something nice…): Whether it’s about yourself or someone else, snarky, rude comments Read more