Dietary Obsession Begins Early

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(The Vancouver Sun, December 2000)

Q: Our nine year old daughter has started talking about how she needs to diet. There is not an extra pound on her body! She is a child and does not have an "hour glass" figure, but she doesn’t seem to listen when we tell her that. Her friends have said similar things to their parents.

Saleema and Teresa: We’re amazed at how early body obsession begins in girls. First, be careful not to trivialize her concern. Of course, we know that it is crazy that she wants to diet, but she obviously sees a need for it. Resist the urge to scream "Don’t be ridiculous! You’re perfect just the way you are!", and instead say something like "I can understand the pressure you must be feeling to look a certain way." Remind your daughter that she needs to gain weight (20-30 pounds during puberty, doctors say) at her age in order to be healthy. Talk to your daughter about the dangers and myths associated with dieting. Teach her to read magazines and watch TV critically. Be aware of the negative statements you make about your own body and practice healthy eating habits. Most importantly, take every opportunity to celebrate your daughter’s special qualities, talents and uniqueness, which are far more important in defining a person than physical characteristics. "Real Gorgeous" by Kaz Cooke takes a sarcastic look at how our society views body and beauty. It’s a hilarious book, and I would recommend both you and your daughter to read it. You may also want to enroll your daughter in an empowerment workshop such as Go Girl!.