Let me introduce myself to the blog readers out there! My name is Jill (from the Boston area) and I am a semi-recent college graduate who is currently completing an AmeriCorps service year and contemplating how her life and career paths can put her on the front lines of tackling many of the issues this blog deals with. I contacted Mrs. Q after her post from May 5th where she alluded to how the troubled relationships we have with our bodies often impact the relationship we have with food. I could not agree more. As an AmeriCorps member with the YWCA, I deal daily in issues of empowerment and body image, so I’d like to take the time in this post to address some issues of life, pop culture and the food/body image intersection.
In an episode of FOX’s hit teen dramedy “Glee” two weeks ago, the series’ blonde bombshell- turned-teen mom got right to the heart of American teens’ troubled relationship with food.
“I was scared, hating myself for eating a cookie. But I got over it. When you start eating for somebody else, so that they can grow and be healthy, your relationship to food changes. What I realized is that if I’m so willing to eat right to take care of this baby, why am I not willing to do it for myself?”
In Quinn’s statement we can see the desire for “ideal beauty” outweighs her concerns for her own personal nutrition. Many experts wish they could call her the minority, but unfortunately, lots of teens feel this way. Without burdening you readers with statistics, I’ll provide two reputable examples of trends being seen:
In a Pew Research Study from 2006 (the most recent year available) 37% of 18-29 year olds worry about their weight some or all of the time.
Research statistics posted on the National Eating Disorder Information Center website cite that 37% of girls in grade 9 and 40% of girls in grade 10 perceived themselves as too fat. Even among students of normal weight (based on BMI), 19% believed they were too fat and 12% reported trying to lose weight.
So often, it’s not just an issue of access to healthy foods or knowledge of what is healthy- it’s about the very essence of food as ‘friend’ not ‘enemy’ and eating as an activity worthy of pride– not shame or danger. There are so many fingers that get pointed in this discussion- pointed at the media, celebrity and the effects of peer pressure. They’re valid complaints and create a vast landscape for discussion, but I’d like to focus on some thoughts and strategies we can use in the home to create positive relationships with food.
Body as beautiful In all the picking, complaining and insulting we do on a daily basis, the body surely takes the brunt! It was Mrs. Q’s comment on her mom and the way food, bodies and dieting were discussed in her childhood home that really got me going on this. This past week, our YWCA chapter hosted a community discussion on body image and there was an educator present who made a great point. There is a time in the life of a child when Mommy and Daddy are perfect and beautiful. Why wreck that? By insulting our ‘perfect selves’ we send the message that those little bodies, those pieces of us, are imperfect, too. The bottom line– Think before you speak. Don’t insult your body. Don’t teach your children that a body is something to be managed, controlled, monitored, starved or anything other than loved.
Use Nature as a guide Organisms need nourishment! Bees, flowers, moose, salmon or children—we all need nutrients to grow healthy and strong. I think the natural world provides amazing opportunity to raise young people in the philosophy of natural, healthy bodies. Growing up, I raised horses and was part of a 4H club. Not everyone can do this, but I have always credited my connection to animals and agriculture as a reason for my positive self body image. If my horse needs nutrients for a glossy coat and an appropriately fleshy barrel- so do I! If all animals go through awkward and gangly stages of development- then I guess I do too!
The teachable moment Remember all that finger pointing I was talking about? Go ahead and point the finger, but talk about why! Kids want to talk about this. They want to talk about the impossibly beautiful models they see on TV, the magazines in the checkout line, the kids who harass them in school, the way they feel about food and their bodies. I’ve never run a workshop on this topic that didn’t have teens running at the mouth, or the educators for that matter! Never miss an opportunity to talk – and listen—your kids (and friends) will remember it.
The Right Stuff at the Right Time Of course, how can we be proud of the way we nourish our bodies if we are not proud of the food that does the nourishing? It’s been touched on in this blog and on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution—we need quality food and we need to teach kids about what makes it valuable. From a young age, food should be exciting and precious! The right food does the right job, which is to make us all beautiful, healthy and strong. That’s a lesson we can teach at home and at school- using our kids as the proof!
I hope that while we are creating a culture of local food, slow food, green food and healthy food- we can also create a culture of healthy relationships to food. One day, I hope that what we put in our bodies becomes a point of pride. Can you imagine a 5 year old pointing at their muscles and saying “the spinach I ate for lunch grew these!”? If young people start cherishing their bodies, and by extension how they nourish them, we’ll all be better off!
To close, I’d like to recommend the documentary film called “America The Beautiful”- which addresses whether or not America is ‘beauty obsessed’ and the means we take to get there. It’s a show-stopper that I often show to high school age students and educators alike!