Posts

Body Image and Girls: 8 Ways to Help Our Daughters Thrive in a Thin-is-in World

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

Emma Thompson Calls Out Hollywood for Weight Pressure: Dr. Robyn Silverman on Good Morning America

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.

Body Positive: 10 Tips to Creating a Better Body Image for You and Your Daughter

bigstock-portrait-of-a-happy-mother-and-61707815-200x300So 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 what?”

“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10.  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.

Warmest regards,

Dr. Robyn Signature

Why this Tween Magazine was Under Fire Due to This Swimsuit Article for Girls

discovery-girls-swimsuit-magazine-1-450x261I 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?

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

 

 

Fourteen Signs that Your Daughter May Have an Eating Disorder

scale_weightHow do you know if your child may have an eating disorder? Here are some signs that may indicate a problem.
  1. Erratic food habits: Eating large amounts of food and then disappearing from the table.
  2. Playing with food.
  3. Restricting food intake.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Skipping meals consistently.
  10. 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.
  11. Complaining about being overweight and fat when they are clearly underweight.
  12. Missing several periods in a row. Periods can stop when girls lose too much weight.
  13. Overall poor body image: Poor attitude when it comes to weight and appearance.
  14. 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.

GGDGF Cover (hi res)From: Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It

By: Robyn J.A. Silverman, PhD

Harlequin, 2010

Progress from Imperfection: Making Room for Mistakes, Doubt and Risk Personally and Professionally

i-am-a-work-in-progress_bigstock-450x452Women (and many men too) are notorious for aiming for perfect. Whether it’s in parenthood, the workplace, our looks or the overall appearance that we have it all together, imperfections are painted over with a broad brush.

The result?

Low risk. Low reward.

Our lack of honesty with ourselves and others is hurting much more than it’s helping.

For any of us to move forward in any realm of life, there must be room to make mistakes. To take the risks. To swim in doubt. To be authentic and imperfect and unsure on our path to success. Living a photoshopped life grounded in reality show flawlessness and Facebook photo perfection does not lead to forward movement.

So here’s some food for thought.

  • When do you feel most connected with people? To truly connect, we must be real. Think about those friends, work buddies, clients or relatives in your life to whom you feel the closest. They know the real you, don’t they? The messy you. And it’s this raw honesty that allows the relationships to deepen. When we reveal our concerns, doubts and mistakes along with the strengths and accomplishments, you allow others to love you for who you are rather than who you project yourself to be. And the relationship authenticity can then go both ways.
  • When can you progress as a parent, professional, athlete or performer? It’s when you take risks and go beyond your comfort zone, isn’t it? When trying a new technique or going down a path you have not yet visited, it’s hard to be perfect. We must embrace ourselves as the learners we are so we can take risks without the baggage. Each time we learn—each time we make a mistake—we become stronger, more knowledgeable and ironically, more successful.
  • When can you figure out your next steps in life? It’s often when we provide room for doubt. If we continue to plug in the next move, the next job and the next conversation without providing space and time to figure out what we do and don’t want, we can be squelching our true, thought-out next steps. We must be able to ask ourselves, whether professionally or personally; “Am I happy with the direction I am going? Do I want to change my trajectory? Do I want to try something new? What do I truly want?” Doubt can be uncomfortable—but it’s a necessary vehicle for progress.

Life is not perfect. We must stop striving for perfection and instead, try for our best. Try for learning. Try for better, stronger, more nuanced and more open than yesterday. Life is messy, weird and wonderful. We make progress from imperfection. Letting go of perfect can feel like it’s shining high beams on our weaknesses but in actuality, it demonstrates our courage and strength.

Go for it!

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

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.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

 

THAT moment in the bathroom with your daughter

wey_77b_mommykiss-225x300We all get that feeling that we are messing up our children sometimes. I do too. Often…if I’m being honest.

I look back to when we first took our daughter home from the hospital and remember my husband and I looking at each other and wondering how in the world they let us take her.  We had no idea what we were doing!

And there are days, with both our children, that we still feel the same way. Do you feel that way too sometimes?

But as much as we think we are messing up at times, it’s also very likely, we are doing something VERY right.  Never forget how powerful you are.  Our children are taking in our words.  They are watching our actions.  They are adopting our values. And it does make a difference.

Everyday, there are opportunities to shape our children.  Of course, it’s what we do overtime that makes a lasting impact.  And sometimes, we DO get it right. And sometimes, we even get a chance to realize it.

Last night– I had THAT MOMENT in the bathroom while brushing teeth with my daughter:

T, age 6: “Mommy; am I beautiful?”
Me: “Yes. When people are kind and full of character, it comes out their eyes and in what they do and it makes them beautiful. And people who are nasty all the time, even if they are pretty on the outside, are not beautiful.”
T: It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside. It’s the inside that counts.”
Me: “That’s right, Baby. People focus too much on what they look like on the outside and not enough on who they are on the inside.”
T: “Yeah. Because it’s what’s in your heart that makes you beautiful.”
Me: “Yes, my Sweet. That’s exactly right. Are you learning about being beautiful on the inside at school?”
T: “No, Mommy. I learned it from you.”

They are listening. You are enough. And maybe, just maybe, we’re not messing up this parenting thing as much as we thought.

Carry on!

 

 

Verizon Viral Ad for Girls: What are We Telling Our Daughters about Math and Science?

It was a great Good Morning America segment this morning!  We focused on a new viral Verizon campaign and ad that questions whether it’s time to move from telling our girls that she’s simply “pretty” to telling them that they are “pretty brilliant” too. What are we telling our girls about their abilities in math and science?  Can we attract more girls into STEM?  We explored this topic.

Why are we seeing greater numbers of ads reaching out to young girls and women giving them the message they can be more?

First, let’s not forget that these companies want to sell products and in these ads they are appealing to big markets, women and girls. But aside from that, I think these companies are seeing that by moving away from looks and celebrating the strong minds of girls, they can inspire a larger pool of future game-changers.  These are the people who can invent something important and become the next generation of leaders in their companies. We are looking for leaders, not hood ornaments.

The ad quotes a statistic- 66% of 4th grade girls say they like science and math, but only 18% of all college engineering majors are female. So where does the disconnect happen? Is it the fault, as the ad suggests, of parents?

Parents get such a bad rap—but it’s not just parents, it’s society as a whole.  If a girl is interested in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math, many of the toys that support those interests are in the “boy” section, the protagonists of the majority of books & movies in this genre are boys—and while there are companies and wonderful grass roots efforts to change that, there is still a message we are working against that says STEM is not for girls and if you go in that direction you’re different, nerdy or boyish.

How does this play out with my own daughter?

My daughter is full of life and curiosity—and, as I tell her and my audiences when I present on this topic, you can’t fuel curiosity if you’re worried about getting your hands dirty. My daughter wanted to be a veterinarian now she wants to be a pediatrician.  She’s interested in science. So when she’s outside digging in the dirt, mud under her fingernails, a worm in her hand and not a care in the world, I say “go get ‘em girl.” That’s curiosity and learning at work.

What can parents do to help daughters reach their potential?

(1) Develop your child’s gifts.  Interests do not come with gender label on them.

(2) Compliment her on more than just her looks because she is so much more creative and nuanced than that.

(3) Develop her character.  Show her and tell her that powerful words like persistence, focus, goal-setting and commitment are vehicles to realizing her dreams if she simply chooses to employ them.

(4) Expose her to people and companies (large and grass roots) that believe that girls can be and do anything!

What are your thoughts about this topic?

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

 

The Problem with Labels: Confining, Constricting and Compressing Our Children’s Potential

labelWe don’t mean to do it.  But so many of us do it anyway.

“This is my shy one.”

“She’s my tom boy.”

“He’s my clown.”

“She’s my reader.”

“He’s my little athlete.”

“She’s great in spelling.”

“He’s great in math.”

“She doesn’t like sports.”

“He can’t sit still for a minute.”

When we label our children, we unwittingly define them.  We provide definite limits that tell our children what we think of them, what we expect of them and who they are to be.

Most of us have heard of the movie, Field of Dreams.  The message repeatedly relayed is “If you build it, he will come.”  I think of labels similarly; “If you label it, they will BEcome.”

Sometimes, this seems like a win.  We label our child a “great student” when we value academics or an “amazing athlete” when we value sports.  What could be wrong with that?  The problem is detected when we realize that the labels deter the child from taking healthy risks and trying something new.  “I am a great student” and therefore “I’m not an athlete.” Or “I’m a great athlete” so “I won’t try out for the school play.”

Labels are accentuated when a comparison is put into the mix.  Brothers and sisters are often unintentionally pitted against each other by parents who categorize them.  The intention is not to harm, but rather describe.  But if we label one child “studious,” another “athletic” and still another “artistic” these areas become that child’s jurisdiction.  This can be detrimental to both the labeled and the other sibling.  The former can feel trapped and the latter can feel timid about trying that activity.

When it comes to gender, labels can feel like a safety net to ensure gender alignment (i.e. He’s all boy, She’s a girly girl), an affront (he’s effeminate, she’s quote boyish) or a self-fulfilling prophesy (she’s bad in math, he’s a class clown).

As we all want our children, both boys and girls, to have every opportunity to flourish into the person they are meant to become, it’s vital that we stop labeling and acknowledge room for growth, change and reinvention.  As a child is “becoming,” there is ebb and flow.  Labels can disrupt and “dam” progress and process.  To maximize potential, let’s leave development as fluid.

bravegirlsA new alliance I am part of called “Brave Girls Want“, is a force of leadership asking everyone from parents, educators, loved ones, legislators and businesses to support, empower, and encourage brave, adventurous, strong, smart, and spirited girls. We are looking to rid the world of labels that confine, constrict or compress the growth of our girls so they can be their most authentic and awesome versions of themselves.

As part of Brave Girls Want, we are planning to invade Time Square on October 11th, coinciding with the International Day of the Girl. For 7 days we will rent a billboard in Time Square and talk about what we want for our girls and what they are telling us they want for themselves. Fewer limits, more choices. Less photo-shopping, more real images.  Less sexualization, more time to enjoy childhood.

Please read about the initiative and help us in any way you can. Check out the IndieGoGo campaign—there are lots of ways to help make this action happen!

After all, these are our girls. All of our girls.  And we can make a difference.

drrobynsig170