“My thighs are too fat. My abs aren’t ripped enough. My body is too hairy.
I have too many zits.” Comments like these are typical of kids who are going through puberty and worried about fitting in. Body dissatisfaction among America’s youth researchers now consider it a natural part of growing up. When kids are unhappy with their bodies, it can lead to self-esteem issues, depression, obsessive exercising and eating disorders. Unrealistic expectations for the “perfect” body shape and size are communicated at an early age, starting with busty Barbie with the pencil-thin waist, as well as G.I. Joe and superhero characters with massive muscles. Kids are bombarded 24/7 with images of super-thin women and men with bulging biceps and six-pack abs.
The media portrays underweight female models as the ideal body type, yet they represent only 5 percent of women in the United States, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee on Adolescent Health Care. “The message is very clear that women and girls are supposed to be thin, and that is the celebrated ideal,” says child and teen development expert Dr. Robyn Silverman, author of “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It.” “Our tendency is to compare constantly,” she continues. “Where do I fit in? Am I worthwhile? Am I okay?”
Educating kids about normal body development can help them be more accepting of their bodies. For example, when girls go through puberty, they typically develop 50 percent more body fat than they had before they started puberty, says Dr. Leslie Sim, psychologist and clinical director of the Mayo Clinic Eating Disorders Program in Rochester, Minn. “They call it the fat spurt.” Some researchers estimate that girls pack on an average of 40 pounds during this peak growth period. Combining physical activity with nutritious eating continues to be the most effective way to maintain a normal weight and build self-confidence. Overeating and not getting enough exercise can lead to obesity, especially for kids who sit for hours on end playing the latest video games or surfing the Internet. Overweight kids are often teased or excluded from sports and are at risk for a wide range of health problems.
Kids are understandably confused about how they should look. Just look at the commercials and magazine ads of slim healthy-looking people eating sugary, high-fat foods. Portion sizes are huge and the temptation of fast-food restaurants is everywhere.
Society encourages obesity, yet glamorizes being thin and muscular.Body shape and size are largely determined by genetics; each person is born with a unique bone structure, body frame and metabolism. Yet some people are so determined to change their bodies that they will resort to drastic measures, including extreme dieting, compulsive exercising, drug abuse and cosmetic surgeries.