Yesterday I had the very cool opportunity to record a learning module with Kori Kostka on body image and how to bring it into your weight neutral practice (check out her program on "attracting clients to your weight neutral practice" online course...its amazing in my opinion). I talked all about what I have learned by listening to clients talk about their bodies, my own personal experience of having a body and learning from other amazing practitioners (shout out to the amazing Body Image Workshop that Marci Evans and Fiona Sutherland held...if you are in London or the area please look up their workshop that they are having in fall 2018...I can't recommend more). Yet after it I was pondering the turning point- the point in life in which our body story changes from one of neutrality or even positivity to one of negativity. I realize that this point is different for everyone and I don't think it is necessarily a hard turn to the dark side but rather a twirly slide down that can travel at different speeds depending on the environment around it. I love working with people to get back to that neutral spot of having their body but often times I wonder what can we do know to avoid the slide altogether or make it more like the baby slides at the park instead of the steep spiny metal ones that burn your butt (summer vacation here and lots of time at the park...sorry for lacking creativity in metaphors).
So what can we do in our lives-whether it be work, home. school or with friends to help change the culture around bodies and allow for more diversity without the negativity that I have often seen? If you have read my posts before you are already thinking..."she is going to say language". Yes!! How we talk, the meaning behind words and how we present these words are so important. Think about if you have even been around a baby. Everyone (at least in my experience) comments on the "chubbiness" of the baby..."so cute, look at those chubby (insert legs, cheeks, arms). So in reality-whether the child knows it or not- their body has been judged since they entered the world. I had spindly babies, and was often asked what was wrong with them. People assumed they were sick (they weren't) or even worse that as a dietitian I had them on a plan (I sure as hell did not) and even people I didn't know would comment. This has always bothered me. I will often question back "why do you feel it is ok to question the body of my child?" To which my favourite response of all time was a woman who said "you are so rude". But really...if we assume that it is ok to question bodies from birth then we are placing our child into the diet culture stew without their permission. Next time you see baby or toddler find something else to comment on but also observe the comments of those around you. You will start to be more aware of what I am saying here. I personally find commenting on the giggle or the finger squeeze a great starting off point for many hours of conversation about all smiles, giggles and grip strength without ever once talking about leg size.
As kids grow often body talk becomes more standard in life. Great Aunt Gladys will say things like "wow, look how much you have grown! you are huge now!" With a big smile as she rushes to hug said child (random side thought- can we stop forcing kids to hug family members or friends? We take away the right for them to choose what they are doing with their body when we do that.) This can be a turn on that slide down. Without intentionally harming, a child could internalize that word "huge". In society today to "be huge" is not something that is seen as a positive trait. In fact it is often one that is often stigmatizing. It only takes a few twirls on that slide to have a downward trajectory. I watch kids play at the beach or in the pool and they are not hiding or covering their bodies as they play. They are running, jumping, laughing! All without the commentary of how they look. Yet depending on how many turns of that slide they have already done you can see diet culture swirling around them like a smoke. This is very upsetting to me. Bodies should be playing free of comments and critique. If a child wants to put on a bikini do not suggest that a one piece would be better to cover the stomach. Be a role model and this includes teaching your child to wear what they are comfortable with on their bodies. Model carrying your body with pride. Do the fun things.
It take constant reinforcement not just from you but from others. Talk to your kids coaches and teachers about how you do not want their bodies commented on- even in what they may perceive as positive. If you say "you are perfect just as you are..." you are saying they are not if they change. And they will change, we all change, all the time. If you as a clinician say " your height and weight are in great proportion to each other" you are also saying that they need to remain on this trajectory to be ok. Which if we know anything about growth and development we know that it is not linear. And please for the love of M&Ms do not say "you will get rid of this baby chub when you get taller, just focus on growing up but not changing your weight". What is that?? I have heard this said more times than I can count and I literally do not get it. How do we "focus on getting taller??" Never in all my years of education did I ever hear about the person that willed themselves to 7feet tall.
Try something new at home to start this process. This might be a big ask to do something different with yourself, your family, whomever you talk to in the evening but try asking "what amazing thing did YOUR BODY DO today?" It's not "what did you do today?" There is an emphasis on the body. Every day get the little people in your life (and lets be honest it can only help the rest of us as well) to say something positive about their bodies. EVERY DAMN DAY. Make it as common as "what made you laugh at school today?" Help wire those brains to combat against the body talk that surrounds them. It might seem so small but it will make them think about themselves in a different way. That their legs were strong enough to run the track at gym. That their arms were able to swing them across the monkey bars. That their neck was able to support their head when they didn't want to listen to the teacher anymore (credit for that goes to my 6 year old). Fingers can hold colouring pencils that make art. Arms can hug those we love. There are so many possibilities that really have nothing to do with outward appearance.
Let's work on making this world a tiny bit easier for people and their bodies. We can all do our part to make sure they get on the baby slide. Let's start from birth to work on body image so that we don't have to spend so much time undoing the damage that society creates.
Until next time be Unapologetically you while I be Unapologetically me
PS...check back to some updates over the summer....there is a Podcast in the works with an awesome colleague....eekkkk...if you are digging this blog you might like to hear me too...