Early the other morning I was watching the news hoping to catch the weather. My four-year-old daughter woke early, came downstairs and sat down next to me on the couch. We rarely watch “grown up TV” together, and if we do, it’s usually something she loves to give her opinion on, like House Hunters or Design on a Dime. As she started watching, a commercial for some Botox-type product came on. The main player of the commercial was a woman a few years older than me with absolutely flawless skin. My daughter watched intently. After the commercial ended, she looked at me and said, “Mom, don’t you think you should get that?” I just said, “Honey, I don’t think my wrinkles are that bad.” She immediately responded by saying, “Well when you do this they are.” Her eyebrows were raised as high as she could possibly get them. Of course, all I could do was laugh. But it did give me some good food for thought…not so much about me, but her.

My grad school thesis was Advertisements and the Perception of the Female Body. The audience of people I studied was primarily teenagers through college-age women. The outcome of my thesis reaffirmed just how deeply we are all affected by the ads we see in magazines and commercials we watch on television. While I know children are highly impressionable, I’ve been blown by how closely my four-year-old observes the things she sees and hears. If our minds are so wax-like when we’re teenagers and young adults, can you imagine how moldable  they are at the early formative years?

At the park over the weekend, I overheard another mother talking to a friend about how she was going to “diet hard” for the next four weeks to have a “perfect beach body” by the time she leaves for vacation. She continued on about cutting back on calories and the foods she wasn’t going to eat. Unfortunately, her daughter was holding her hand the entire time.

In my field, I hear these comments a lot. I get it. Everyone wants to look nice, and no one wants to go on vacation feeling like a beached whale. That said, “skinny” is a hot commodity and tends to jump to the front of the “personal goals” line…leapfrogging over “healthy.” If you happen to be childless and are hell-bent on taking the eat-as-little-as-possible path, go for it. Just don’t expect your body to reward you when you do start eating normal again…and you will. If you’re NOT childless and go this route, the consequences will be much greater than just in how your body responds, but your kids’ as well.

Parents can’t possibly control everything their children see and hear. It would be maddening to even try. When it comes to healthy living, however, parents can actually do a lot to help build a strong foundation that will (hopefully) transcend into a life of healthy habits and good self esteem. If you’re a parent watching their weight, and read this blog – then you’re probably on the right track. Just remember so much of what you do has an impact on your kids’ lives.

A simple shift from “I need to go on a diet,” to “I need to start eating healthier,” can make a big difference.

DO place value on

  • healthy foods and healthy eating
  • family activities and recreation
  • positive body-talk “healthy,”  “fit,”  “strong”

DON’T place value on

  • trendy diets
  • counting calories
  • negative body-talk “fat,” “chunky,” “skinny”

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