Mirror, mirror: When is vanity pathology?
I was in 8th grade when I went on my first “diet.” I was obsessed with Brooke Shields at the time, and wanting desperately to be statuesque and rail-thin like her. Since I couldn’t control my lack of height, I went after what I could control – my weight.
That first attempt at food deprivation at age 12 led to years of “yo-yo dieting” that got worse after my freshman year of high school when a classmate told me my hips “looked big” in the jeans I was wearing. They were a size 2! But what I saw in the mirror from that point on was usually about five sizes bigger. That warped perception is what experts call a negative, or distorted, body image, which I admittedly sometimes struggle with even today.
So, it was no surprise to me when new data came out last month showing that 80 percent of all 10-year-old girls have been on at least one diet.
Research from the National Eating Disorders Association shows 40 to 60 percent of kids between 6 and 12 years old are concerned about their weight or becoming “too fat,” and that 70 percent would prefer to be thinner.
As the mother of a teenage girl, this kind of research concerns me. I’ve long worried about her perception of herself. I want her to have a healthy body image and a healthy relationship with food.
That’s one reason why I went on record a few years back in the local newspaper – even appearing on CNN – to discuss my history of anorexia and what’s known as “exercise bulimia.”
It wasn’t until I started incorporating weight lifting into my exercise regimen that I understood the difference between being thin and weak and being lean and strong.
Contrary to what some might think, television has played no role in any negative body image I’ve had. But, I do think that some of the magazines I used to read, such as Seventeen and Teen – with their waif-like and perfectly proportioned models – probably did.
The president of the National Eating Disorders Association says manipulated images contribute to eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem among girls as young as 8 years old.
That’s why I’m encouraged by the promise that Seventeen magazine’s top editor has made to always feature healthy girls and models regardless of clothing size.
When my daughter reads that magazine, I’m confident that it is more for the beauty and fashion tips than any perceived body standard.
Experts believe that parents need to take a more proactive role in a child’s perception of themselves by encouraging them to have healthy relationships with food.
I’m very mindful of how I treat and talk about food in front of the kids. On the rare occasion when I slip and wonder out loud if I look fat, my daughter will pounce on my poor choice of words. In our house, d-i-e-t is a four letter word.
Catherine Anaya anchors CBS 5 News weeknights at 5, 5:30, 6 & 10pm. She is a mother of two, marathon runner and motivational speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, connect with her on Facebook, twitter and at CatherineAnaya.com.