Dr. Cara Natterson – This podcast will focus on how to decode boys and talk to boys about puberty, sex, porn, nudes and body image. It’s vital that we talk to boys about these tough topics as it’s part of keeping them healthy and safe—and that’s a big part of our job as parents. Dr. Robyn Silverman interviews Dr. Cara Natterson about how to talk to boys about this sensitive subject matter. Boys deserve to have the right information that helps them learn about positive relationships and sex and, at the same time, helps to protect them from becoming vulnerable to societal messages about body image, pornography and violence.
It was 1996, my Freshman year of college, when I came face-to-face with a truth that still follows me today- one unifying concern that almost all girls and women seem to share is that they want to change something about their bodies. I still remember when it happened, as it came as a surprise to me. One of my friends asked me if my thighs touched. This gifted young woman, with big brown eyes, a sharp brain and warm heart worried that how close her thighs were to the other cancelled out her talents, intelligence and overall value.
It stuck with me. I spoke to countless other women and teens along the way who felt similarly. Despite the strengths they had to offer, they felt that “looks” were more important than their other attributes.
In graduate school, I studies body image. In fact, I wrote a qualifying paper and my 167-page dissertation on the topic. As it turns out, even research tells us that despite all that women and girls have to offer this world, 96% of girls and women want to change something about their bodies.
I completed my book, Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It, based on my dissertation work, in 2009 with my newborn baby girl, Tallie, strapped to my chest. The book was published in 2010. It’s 2018– and the issue is just as prevalent today as it was then. But of course, my own mothering love and worry for my now 9-year-old daughter and her beautiful friends, sheds a much more personal light to this prevalent problem.
So, how can we help our girls thrive? Read more
After a woman has a baby, her body continues to change. What has been dubbed “the 4th trimester,” the 3 months after the birth of a child, can be a time when women can feel at odds with their bodies. Still, this is a time when woman should be celebrating their bodies– look at what they just did! No need to wait- you are beautiful now.
Good Morning America came to the house to talk with me about it– as an intro to their a makeover segment with a beautiful woman who had recently given birth to a daughter.
We need people in the limelight to speak up about weight obsession, body image and eating disorders. Thankfully, more and more people have been stepping up. I was on Good Morning America this morning- talking about just that.
Most recently, Emma Thompson, award-winning actress, calls the weight pressures in Hollywood “evil.” She told the Swedish TV show, Skavlan, that:
“It is evil what is going on and happening out there, and it is getting worse…The anorexia… there are so many kids, girls, and boys now, and actresses who are very very thin that are into their 30’s and simply don’t eat. They don’t eat.”
Thompson also revealed that when she worked on the movie “Brideshead Revisited,” she heard one issue of dieting pressure that made her stand up for another fellow actress. She simply couldn’t keep quiet about it. I’m glad she didn’t.
“There was a wonderful actress I was working with and the producer said to her, ‘Will you lose some weight? She was absolutely exquisite. I said to them, ‘If you speak to her about this again, on any level, I will leave this picture, you are never to do that.'”
Any time a high profile person speaks up and says “we are more than our looks” and “this pressure to lose weight and be thin” is not okay, s/he does something very important for women and girls (and boys!) everywhere. She tells them, they are enough as they are.
It’s vital that we have conversations about these pressures and about the way media influences how people think about weight and size. I encourage parents to use what they see in the press as springboards for discussion- what do your children think about these pressures? What do they think about what Emma Thompson said? These conversations are not just important for girls and women but for boys and men too– it’ll take everyone to change these norms and unrealistic expectations.
So many of my best “body image” conversations with my daughter happen in the bathroom while we are getting ready for bed. It is where I’ve gotten the question; “Do you think I’m beautiful?” and where, when she was just three years old, she said to me; “Mommy; you have a big tushy!” This is how that conversation went:
“Mommy; you have a big tushy!”
[Pause. This was one of those moments where I knew I could either mess up totally or help to set the positive body image values that I hold dear. Pause. Breathe. Smile.]
“Well of course I do! I couldn’t have your little ‘Tallie tushy’ on my big Mommy body! Then I couldn’t do all the things I love!”
“Like…yoga, going for run or chasing after you!”
[I start to tickle her and we have a good laugh.]
“My body allows me to do all my favorite things. What does your body allow you to do?”
“Gahnastics!” She laughed. “And pwaying at the pak!”
“Yes! Out body allows us to do all of those things that we love.”
[I picked her up and we looked in the mirror.]
“Aren’t our bodies amazing? Aren’t WE amazing?”
“Yeah! We amazin’! I amazin’!”
Our bodies are the vehicles for everything we do- it’s how we participate in our passions, our favorite activities and our everyday. It’s how we express love, anger, sadness and frustration. It gives motion to our lives. We need to love our bodies because they make the lives we lead possible and by loving our bodies and being grateful for our bodies, we are able to use this vehicle to drive us anywhere we want to go.
So here are 10 Quick Tips that we can all do today to set the groundwork for positive body image:
- Speak with gratitude about your body: Talk about what your body allows you to do instead of how it appears. Love yoga? Softball? Running around after your niece and nephew? Your body allows you to do that.
- Create a Fat-Talk-Free Zone: Make your home or at least the dinner table your safe haven. Make it a blanket rule. Hang a sign that says “leave your fat-talk at the door.” They are always welcome to pick it up on the way out.
- Hang around with body positive people: If you always spend time with people who speak badly about their bodies, your body or the neighbor’s body, you will find that your mind goes there too. Let your friends know that you are trying to embrace a more body positive lifestyle and language and spend time with those who support it.
- Learn your hot buttons and acknowledge them: Is it every time you look at a certain magazine, watch a particular show or spend time with a specific family member that you start to feel dreadful about your body? Notice what sets you off so you can make some changes or at least confront the problem itself. Stop that subscription, turn off the show and stop making lunch dates with that person who makes you feel like you are not enough.
- Realize where the voice is coming from: Whose voice is it telling you that you need to change your appearance, lose weight or cover that mole on your chin? Sometimes it’s someone in our lives now—other times it’s the voice of an old boyfriend, kid from the 5th grade or long gone relative. By giving the voice a name, you separate it from your own and can tell it to go fly a kite.
- Say good-bye to perfect: There is no such thing and yet we chase it. When we let go of the unattainable, we can embrace the person we are rather than focus on what we lack.
- Exercise to feel good rather than to look a certain way: When we exercise, we reduce stress, get the blood pumping and produce endorphins that make us feel great. You don’t have to do something that bores you! Dance, do a color run with a friend, box or get silly with a favorite child in your life!
- Do for others: When we volunteer and help others in need, it gives us perspective. There are many more important thing in life that how we look. Do something that touches your heart and gives you a sense of purpose.
- Be kind to yourself- now: Don’t wait until you lose “the weight!” Buy yourself a nice outfit that makes you feel beautiful. Go out to lunch with a friend. Get a massage! You deserve to be valued now because of who you are.
- Be a positive role model: It can be incredibly powerful to imagine yourself holding the hand of a young girl or boy—what would you want them to hear you say? What would you hope they would echo? There are always eyes and ears watching and listening. Be the example you always wish you had. (I did a podcast on this topic for SheKnows here)
While it may take some awareness and effort to move to a more positive way of thinking, feeling and acting when it comes to our bodies, it certainly is worth it. It will surely help those impressionable girls (yes, and boys too!) to see the value of “owning” and loving our bodies as they are but also it will help ourselves.
Create a habit of body positivity. You don’t need to do all 10 of these tips right away– but pick one or two– then keep adding as you put them into place! I’m rooting for you.
I was recently on the Today Show talking about Discovery Girls and their misstep in publishing an article on swimsuits for specific body types. Some people thought it was a big deal– others did not. What’s your view?
What are the girls experiencing in preteen years that makes this a tough time?
During the preteen years, a girl’s body is changing, her brain is changing and she is moving from the child stage to the teen and young adult stage. It can feel weird and confusing for any girl—so many turn to communities and resources where they feel safe and valued for who they are.
Why is this article a big deal?
This is the time of year when every magazine is focusing on bathing suits and what cuts are best to accentuate their best features and hide features that are less valued in our culture. When preteen magazines jump on the bandwagon, it sends a message to girls that they need to be thinking about how they look—form over function- when it comes to swim suit.
Of course, teen magazines could have a lot of fun with bathing suit styles by flipping the conversation and asking; “What bathing suit style is best for what you LOVE to do” or “What bathing suit patterns reflect your personality?” And going into bold or subtle prints, loud and soft colors and other fun fashion topics like that.
Why was that one sentence in the apology about the magazine attempting to simply “build confidence in girls” a big deal?
Many parents don’t want their girls to get the message that what you wear and how you look affects whether you feel confident. We all make mistakes, absolutely, and I think parents just wanted to hear that a mistake was made, they take full responsibility and it will never happen again.
How do you build a girl’s confidence?
A girl can build confidence by (1) gaining mastery in something she cares about and (2) feeling connected, safe and valued by people she cares about in and outside of her home. When a girl believes in herself, pushes through barriers, succeeds after failing and feels she has key people to rely on in her life, she gains confidence. Confidence is built from the inside out, not the other way around.
Kinds of message this article can inadvertently send:
This kind of an article can send a negative message to a girl who is using the magazine as a safe place to learn how to be a healthy preteen. When we talk about the need to hide areas of our bodies to look good in a swimsuit, we are saying that there are parts of every girl’s body that may need to be covered because it’s not acceptable.
Let’s be blunt. Raising a girl in today’s appearance-oriented world can be a challenge. When articles seem to reflect rather than deflect the media messages plaguing our girls that state “your value comes from how you look or you need to change the way you look to fit what others think is valuable,” parents get very upset. This is especially true when they trust the resource and feel that the focus took an unexpected turn.
What did you think of the article?
- Erratic food habits: Eating large amounts of food and then disappearing from the table.
- Playing with food.
- Restricting food intake.
- Major changes in weight in a short amount of time: Considering teen bodies are changing and getting heavier, dramatic weight loss for age and height can be a warning sign.
- Hiding her body even after weight loss: May be an indication that your daughter believes her body is very large even when it is not.
- Hiding food: Finding large amounts of food stashed in her bedroom, hidden under her bed or in closet, disappearance of food from the refrigerator or pantry.
- Refusal to eat when others are present: You’ll hear things like “I’ve already eaten” or “I have a stomachache” simply to avoid eating.
- Compulsive exercising: Exercising to take off as many calories that were consumed. Exercising several times daily or exercising until she can’t exercise anymore. Hyper-focus on how many calories burned, weight, inches, etc.
- Skipping meals consistently.
- Measuring self-worth based on weight: Calling oneself “good” for not eating and “bad” for giving in to eating. Bashing self for eating more than the allotted calories.
- Complaining about being overweight and fat when they are clearly underweight.
- Missing several periods in a row. Periods can stop when girls lose too much weight.
- Overall poor body image: Poor attitude when it comes to weight and appearance.
- Spending a lot of time in the bathroom: Could be sign of purging or laxative use.
*If you feel that your child may have an eating disorder, contact your child’s doctor to discuss your concerns and a possible plan of action.
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:
“I feel like we’re missing the point. In allowing ourselves to get roped into a discussion about which women’s bodies are “healthy” enough to appear mostly naked in a magazine, we are perpetuating the institutionalisation of our own objectification and ensuring that it continues for our daughters’ generation. The fact that the field is widening so that a greater variety of women “get” to be photographed wet and on all fours is not something to celebrate. The day something as archaic as a “swimsuit issue” ceases to exist will be something to celebrate.” (S. Lang)
Yes. ^ THIS. ^
When I’m presenting to audiences on the ten media messages girls receive about themselves each day, objectification and sexualization are two of the most alarming problems that often lead people in the audience to call out in frustration. How is this still possible that women are looked at in the way—and, in fact, in cases such as this swimsuit issue, we argue and tweet and yell so that more women get to be treated in this manner?
Of course we a wider definition of “beautiful.” We want more size acceptance, less criticism, more breaking through glass ceilings and less marginalization. But is this argument—who is hot enough, thin enough, beautiful enough, healthy enough to be photographed wet and on all fours on the cover of Sports Illustrated—a magazine that typically celebrates athletes—the way to do it?
Perhaps this is the real conversation we are meant to have on social media. What do YOU think?
My 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?
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!
Note: I love doing these segments. However, due to the short length of the segment, my quotes were spliced 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!
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