Our Thoughts Are With You: Victims of Hurricane Sandy

As I live in NJ, we have seen and heard much of the devastation due to the most recent storm.  Hurricane Sandy lived up to the predictions.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you, our neighbors, and all those who suffered loss due to flood, falling trees and power outages.

hurricane-sandy-300x200My hope is that we all open our hearts and our homes to those who are still in need.  Do what you can even if it’s small– donate, lend out generators or extension cords, invite people over for dinner and to stay the night.  That’s been our plan of action as our power has been restored (thankfully) and we only had 2 fallen trees and some fence damage.  We consider ourselves very lucky– and hope for the safety and quick recovery of those still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Amanda Todd: Teen Ends Her Life After Relentless Battle with Bullying

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOHXGNx-E7E

I’m stuck. What’s left of me now…nothing stops.  I have nobody. I need someone. ?

amanda-todd-300x225Amanda Todd, a once, promising happy young Canadian girl committed bullycide on Wednesday after relentless, senseless attacks– physical, emotional and psychological– over several years followed her from town to town.

Her horrible story is hauntingly told in a youtube video with cue cards and shaking hands. What began in seventh grade when, she wrote, “I would go with friends on webcam [to] meet and talk to new people.” A stranger made her feel attractive and convinced her to flash the camera.  A mistake that would unravel into years of stalking, black-mailing and bullying, this girl was shamed and made to feel worthless.

Even when moving to place to place to get away from the abuse, the tormenters would find her and continue to cyberbully and physically bully this young woman who was trying her best to find someone who would love her as she is.  She spiraled into depression, complicated by intense and crippling anxiety, self hatred, self harm, and private self-bullying (see the connection between bullying, mental health and suicidehere and how to report responsibly on suicide here).

At one point, 50 kids bullied her at one time.  A boy had lead Amanda on, told her he liked her, and slept with her only to gang up on her later with his then girlfriend and friends.  “Just punch her!” they yelled.  The kids filmed it. Her father found her in a ditch later that day.  Even then, she didn’t want to press charges and get anyone else into trouble.  Her self worth was obliterated.  She went home and drank bleach– which landed her in the hospital– and urged on her tormenters to make fun of her that much more– and even urge her to kill herself.

Sadly, that’s exactly what she did.  At the end of this video, uploaded just last month, she writes “I have nobody.  I need someone.”

amandatodd_cheer-200x300I think this is the legacy she leaves– a message to all of us to be the someone these kids need.  Studies tell us that a majority of young people don’t feel that they have at least three people to turn to in a time of need or challenge (see more on this in the new Bully book I am proud to have been part of along with Rosalind Wiseman and Michele Borba).  As I tell my audiences when I present on bullying;

Please, be one of the three. Because you may actually be the only one. I know it’s hard. I know we’re all busy. I know we have no time. But cries for help don’t wait for a hole in our schedules.

It’s National Anti-bullying month and it’s way past time to make a change and commit to making this situation better for those who are suffering.

Peace be with you, Amanda Todd. I am so infuriated…So saddened by this tragic story and the many others that tell a tale of struggle and loss. How could this continue to go on like this? We must do better for you so it can get better for all.

 

 

 

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

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

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;

bodybully-300x214“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.

Lady Gaga Vogue Cover Airbrushed Beyond Recognition: My Interview

gagavogue-300x225I was recently interviewed about Lady Gaga’s Vogue Cover.

Perhaps people feel that all’s fair in love and fashion, but the Lady Gaga Vogue cover photo speaks much more that a thousand words. See the video of her photo-shoot here.

When a Superstar like Gaga is known for encouraging every young person to be proud for being “born this way,” embracing extreme photo-shopping can feel incongruent.  She is made to look impossibly thin, poreless and perfect.

Young kids may look at that photo and think, ‘if even this outspoken, unique, quirky icon can’t be authentically herself, what does it say about her message and what does it say about me?’ We need our revered celebrities to take a stand and tell the media where they must draw the line.

We all know that photo-shopping is typical– and I don’t begrudge magazine editors basic tweaks to ensure that the cover looks it’s best for sale– but shaving off half a person’s waist, nearly eradicating her knees, shaving down the structure of her face makes Lady Gaga appear as a parody of herself rather than the symbol of authenticity and individuality she has always been known to be.

I admire this woman and what she stands for and I wish her message of authenticity was carried through in this popular photo shoot.  If it’s all for “art” then let it be said loudly with a Surgeon General Warning of sorts– “Constantly Being Exposed to Impossible Standards Such As This One May Be Harmful to Your Mental Health.”

These photos will definitely be put in my presentation “Media Masquerade” that I’ve been doing nationally since the release of Good Girls Don’t Get Fat (my weight obsession and body image book). At least it can be a springboard for discussion with girls, their parents and their mentors– and for that, perhaps we can be grateful.

Making Friends: Teaching Kids (and Ourselves) About Real Friendship

Navigating new friendships can feel complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.  Whether you are 3, 13, 33 or 63, certain rules of friendship are constant.  Here are some things I teach my children and also, remind myself of to this day:

(1) Allow great friendships to happen organically: We may feel lonely. And we may want a group of supportive, wonderful friends that seem to be featured all over TV today. That doesn’t mean it happens instantaneously. Friendships happen over time.  Create opportunity to allow friendships to grow and thrive without forcing them to happen.  When we force friendships, everyone feels awkward and the opportunity for real friendship to form is diminished.

(2) Just because you’re friends with certain people, doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with someone else: There is a tendency for cliques to form in both childhood and adulthood.  Be careful you are not shutting out the opportunity to meet other great people outside of your proscribed group.  When we shut out such opportunities, we also diminish our own chance to grow and become better, more well-rounded people.

3) Gossip is an ugly habit: If you are finding that you and your friends drama-201x300have a habit of talking negatively about others, give it a rest.  Gossip creates drama.  And frankly, it’s just an ugly thing to do. There are too many other wonderful and interesting things to talk about besides other people. If your typical friends won’t stop gossiping, it may be time to go out with some other friends.

(4) Branch Out: Try meeting new people.  Join a new class, go outside your town, attend a meet-up or go someplace you haven’t been before.  Spend less time on Facebook and give people more Facetime in order to get to know others better. Ask someone new to join you for a playdate, cup of coffee, or a walk around the park.  When we branch out, we give new friendships a chance to grow.

(5) Nurture the friendships that feel mutually easy, refreshing & positive: Sometimes we overlook the friends we have in exchange for focusing on the ones we wish we had.  Think of those people who have always been consistent, strong friends. Make sure you carve out time to be with them and show them that their friendship is important to you.

(6) Get back to people: If people call, message or ask you to get together, give them the courtesy of an answer.   Even if you would prefer not to go out with them, have the character to be respectful of their time and their feelings.  Ignoring people is rude whether you are a child or an adult.  It feels horrible. The Golden Rule Applies—do unto others as you would have done to you.

(7) If you don’t feel good when you are around them, move on:  Friendship should feel good most of the time.  If you find that you don’t feel like yourself or feel unsure of yourself when you are with certain friends, either talk about it openly with them so you can address the problem or move on. True friends don’t want you to be anything other than what you are because they like the real you.

While some friendships might take work, most of the time, they should feel pretty easy, meaningful, fulfilling and fun. Friendship should make you feel like the best version of yourself. If you have at least one friendship that does that for you, count yourself very lucky.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Ask Dr. Robyn: Teaching Children Accountability and Responsibility

Dr. Robyn Silverman answers one parent’s question about how to teach her children to be responsible and accountable for their own messes and mistakes.

Question answered: Dear Dr. Robyn. My sister’s kids are always leaving a mess for her to clean up.  My kids are young and I just don’t want them to do the same thing.  How can I teach them to be responsible for their own messes and mistakes? Pam, New York, NY

The Day I Become a Mother at Whole Foods Market

tallie_aug2008-300x208

It was exactly 4 years ago this week that I received a call that changed my life.  I was in Whole Foods. Hingham, Massachusetts.  Frozen Foods section.

“Hello, Robyn? It’s your social worker, Carla.  Are you sitting down?”

I looked around at the walls of freezers and the cold linoleum floor.  “Ummm, not exactly.” I bit my lip. My stomach started doing flip flops. I knew this was it. “Let me head outside so I can really hear you.” I left my cart next to the frozen peas and spinach and high tailed it out of there. “OK. I’m outside.”

There was a pause of anticipation.  It felt like there should be some kind of drum roll.

“Congratulations, Mommy! You’ve been matched!”

“Oh my God.” I put my hand over my heart. My breath was stuck inside my lungs waiting to hear who had chosen us to parent her child.  But in actuality, I knew.

You see, I had been holding on to a single email with this potential birth mother’s name and information on it for a week since it came in to my inbox.  There was something about it that called to me—a deep knowing that she was growing our baby inside of her. In fact, it was the only “baby” email I printed out and took with me to Las Vegas where I spoke at a conference just a few days before. The email was still in the my purse as I stood there outside of Whole Foods market clutching my phone to my ear, closing my eyes and hoping that I wasn’t dreaming.

For four years I had waited for this moment.  We were pregnant.  Well, not me, exactly.  But we were having a baby. And I had learned the hard way that this was the most important thing.  We were making a family.

After getting all the information on next steps, I hung up the phone and exhaled the countless breaths that had been stuck inside my body for too long. Turning my face up to the sun I thanked God audibly.  My eyes were wet with grateful tears—an incredible change from the gut-wrenching cries I had thrown up after each miscarriage, misstep, and misleading test.

“What am I going to do now?” I wondered. Can I really go food shopping after this news? Gathering up frozen food items and fresh produce just didn’t seem worthy of this news. And I wasn’t going to tell Jason over the phone that he was going to be a Daddy.  No way.  This moment was too important!

But as you might imagine, I was bursting. So I went back inside Whole Foods and found my cart, headed over to the deli counter and did what any woman would have done in my situation.  I told the deli guy! Who called over the other people behind the counter, who called over some other people…and there were shouts of congratulations and some teary smiles. It was fabulous. It felt really, really good.

As I put my grocery bags in my car I smirked at the thought that I had gone into the store a wife and had come out a mother.  Not too many people can say that, huh? One of the best moments of my life started in the frozen foods section, moved outside their front door and made it’s first announcement at the Deli Counter of Whole Foods market in Hingham, Massachusetts. A shopping trip I will never forget.

What’s your story? Tell us here or on Facebook!

drrobynsig170

 

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

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.

vintage_weight1-222x300“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.

vintage_weight3-157x300These 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.”

vintage_weight2-157x300What 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?

drrobynsig170

 

Dr. Robyn Silverman introduces the Powerful Word Accountability

The powerful word of the month is accountability! Accountability is all about keeping our promises and commitments while also taking care of our mistakes.  It’s important to allow our children and teens to be accountable for themselves (while still being age appropriate) so that they learn (1) Making mistakes is not the end of the world; (2) When you make a “mess,” clean it up; (3) Ask for help when you need it; (4) healthy promises and commitments are something that should be kept; (5) Accountability is a crucial part of goal setting and goal getting as well as a vital part of being a good friend, student, employee, and family member.

While it may be tempting to jump in and “do it for them” when we see a child/teen challenged by a mistake s/he made (i.e. forgot his homework, lost a book) or a promise he no longer wants to keep (i.e. wants to quit a sport, doesn’t want to go to the birthday party she said she would attend), learning accountability at a young age is a great life lesson.

Children may need support or assistance at times but at others, we need to step back and allow them to take the lead.  Encourage them to tell the librarian that they lost a book and want to pay for it with their allowance.  Teach your children that once they make a commitment to a friend, it’s important that they keep that promise.  Show them that when they make a mistake, they need to admit it, apologize for it and help make it right. If they can learn this when stakes are low during childhood, they will be able to apply these life lessons to their life when stakes are higher during adulthood.

Enjoy this month’s Powerful Word! How are YOU teaching accountability in your home?

drrobynsig170

 

The SNAKE that Poisons Everyone

gossip-300x229

The original article hung on the kitchen cabinet of my childhood home for over 20 years– an important reminder to every member of our family of the power of gossip.

As bullying continues to make headlines, we know that gossip is a major component of bullying.  It ads fuel to the fire.  It is a vehicle to punish.  It excludes many while including a few– who is on either side can change on a dime.

My husband and I have often told the young people we mentor, if people will do it for you, they’ll do it to you.  In this case, if they are gossiping with you, they will likely gossip about you. While gossip can seem fun and frivolous to those who are doing it, it can feel quite painful to those who are discussed. Be careful of those who engage in this behavior as you might just be the one bitten next!

I think I learned that lesson the hard way as an elementary school student who used to tell secrets in order to try to connect and make friends.  Of course, this would backfire.  As you can imagine, I was glad I learned that lesson early!

Has the gossip snake bitten anyone in your home or your school? If you could hang this anywhere to remind someone to watch what they say, where would you hang it?

Feel free to print it out and share. I can still practically recite it verbatim as I read it more often throughout my childhood than I’ll ever know. Not a bad thing. I think my Mom was onto something…

drrobynsig170 The SNAKE that Poisons Everyone

 

The SNAKE that Poisons Everyone is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman – Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System