In the last couple of years, I’ve started following a number of different people in the fitness industry. I find it inspiring to see their pictures and read their Facebook posts. However, last year, during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, I was surprised and disappointed to find that numerous people posted disparaging comments about the Victoria’s Secret models.
There were several posts about how the models were too thin, it wasn’t attractive, they needed to gain weight, etc. People making critical comments like this typically defend it by claiming that they’re trying to prevent anorexia and eating disorders. They say that images of skinny women set a false standard of beauty and have a negative impact on impressionable teens.
Ironically, in making these comments, we may be contributing to the very problem we’re trying to prevent.
Eating disorders are something I studied as part of my school psychologist training. While the development of an eating disorder is a complex issue, one aspect is being overly focused on appearance.
Let me say that again. One thing that contributes to the development of an eating disorder is being overly focused on physical appearance.
So, when you criticize a woman on TV based solely on her appearance… What is the message you are sending?
Inadvertently, you’re saying that her appearance is all that matters.
If you are concerned about this problem, what can you do?
1. Talk more about character traits than body parts. You want your daughter to feel confident and secure? Make sure she knows what you admire about her. And make sure that includes non-physical qualities.
2. Focus on health. I wrote recently about loving your body, regardless of size or weight. One aspect of that is enjoying what your body can do. Are you active? Energized? Strong? Focusing on eating to fuel your body is a great way to prevent eating disorders of any type.
3. Encourage healthy coping. There’s evidence that suggests teens who struggle with anxiety and perfectionism may be more prone to developing eating disorders. Do you want to protect your child from anorexia? Help him or her learn how to handle stress. Model expressing feelings, nurturing yourself, and setting healthy limits. Support your child in developing strong friendships. And if you don’t feel like you can do these things, get help yourself and learn how to do so from a counselor or therapist.
Again, this is a complex issue. I don’t mean to minimize that. In addition, it can be very difficult to get under control. If you or someone you love is struggling, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) or call 1-800-931-2237.
And the next time you’re tempted to criticize a stranger’s appearance, don’t.
What tips would you add for those concerned about body image and how it’s portrayed in the media?