‘Tween’ Body Image Issues

I obsess about health and I won’t try to pretend I don’t. I count calories and get nervous if there is cake in the room left unattended. However, I used to eat Big Macs and filled my weekly workout quota by bending over to tie my shoes, so I feel as though I’ve earned the right to obsess. Still, I do it right by exercising and trying to eat right every day, with the occasional blowout. (Ask my friends and family about my diet during celebrations. Entire casseroles have been known to disappear.) As I said, I wasn’t always like this.

When I was growing up, I didn’t think about what I put into my body. I, like most kids my age, got my exercise through hours of playing outside and swimming in the lake. My parents gave me veggies from the garden in the summer and I enjoyed many loaves of pumpkin bread in the fall, but never once felt guilty for eating Poptarts and Reese Cups for breakfast. I was young and loved life. Call me crazy for assuming all 10-14 year-old kids were like this.

I hate this vegetable so much I lied to my preschool teacher about being allergic.

While catching up with a friend recently, I asked her about a young female member of her family. She said she was fine, but that she was starting to complain about her weight. Now, I know this young lady, and she is the farthest thing from overweight. She’s young, beautiful, and active, which are all great qualities, in my book. However, she seems to think certain parts of her body are fat and apparently she isn’t the first young girl to think this way.
According to a recent CNN article, young girls like my friend’s family member are becoming increasingly body conscious at an earlier age. Now I’m only 23, so it seems strange that a generation not far behind mine is growing up with such different worries. (I mainly worried about catching a good episode of ‘Daria’.) The report found that the average age for the onset of anorexia is now between 9 and 12 and according the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, more than 60% of elementary and middle school teachers reported that eating disorders are a problem in their schools. So what’s the deal?
“For one thing, kids today hear a lot more about weight and body shape than we heard in childhood. They get anti-obesity messages at school (which can sometimes backfire, making perfectly healthy children paranoid about ice cream and other “fattening” foods), are bombarded by weight-loss ads on TV, see six-pack abs on the covers of magazines and idolize stars in teeny-tiny jeans.
Our culture serves up such a vast smorgasbord of body judgments, is it any wonder that so many kids are unhappy with the way they look?”
The article also pointed out the correlation between body issues and sports, due to their competitive nature. Whatever the cause, eat disorders and body image-related disorders are serious and can sometimes be fatal. How can we help prevent this?
“We can’t protect children from unhealthy cultural messages or prevent the inevitable changes of puberty, but we can teach them how to respond in healthy ways.”
This is where organizations like Girls on the Run come can help. With a mission to inspire girls to be healthy and confident and a vision that every girl knows and activates her limitless potential, this organization combines training for a 5K running event with healthy living education. This after school program is open to girls in grades 3-5 and encourages girls at all fitness levels. My county has a wonderful program, operated by a wonderful Council Director, Laurie Abildso, who goes above and beyond to help keep this nonprofit program afloat.
Even though I’ve volunteered with this program for a little over a year, I still never realized how prevalent this issue really is. So I want to encourage everyone to help fight this problem by talking to any young girl you may know about being healthy and beautiful, inside and out. It’s so important to remind our youth (boys can have issues too!) that what they see on television and online is a very distorted view of the world and being healthy and active is one of the most beautiful things of all!
For more information on the Girls on the Run of Monongalia County program, check out http://moncountygotr.org, visit them on Facebook at Monongalia County Girls on the Run, or contact me! This is a great cause and we are always looking for volunteers.
[For the full article on CNN.com.]
My Healthy Choice of the Day: Choosing to be guilt-free over indulging in my Cinnamon Chex cereal a little too much last night. (I’ve got to feed my body now that I’m running again!)
**I apologize for the lack of spacing. WordPress is being sensitive tonight.