Friday, June 13, 2014

Is that a plus?

You can also read this at my newly launched website, Until I get that sight fully operational, I am going to be continuing to post on this website as well.

Occasionally, I will take a break from blogging about training and triathlon and branch into body image and psychological distortions. This post is one of those. It has nothing to do with triathlon, racing, gear, or training, but still is an important issue to discuss in my opinion.

If you are a Disney-raised kid like me, you can most likely list off the majority of Disney princesses:
From right to left (see if you can do this by memory): Cinderella, Belle, Mulan, Arial, Rapunzel, Jasmine, Snow White, Pocahontas, Tiana, Aurora.

Look at the line up and while they have become more ethnically and racially diverse since Snow White first appeared, they nevertheless share one common trait: unnatural body composition, which is the polite way of saying busty, hour glass, frames that make young boys swoon.

Recently, a high school junior started an online petition for Disney to include a plus size princess in its line up. Similar to how people advocated for stronger female protagonists (no more damsel in distress and dumb blondes) and a more diverse showing, she is asking that Disney get away from the thin, Barbie style projection of what a woman "should" look like and instead have a plus size princess. According to her (and research supports this), girls need a self-confident, realistic, plus size role model to look up to especially since they are assaulted with air brushed images of perfect women in every other media outlet.

Similar to Barbie, Disney princesses may be sending a bad message to young women about how women look. I remember one feminist group made a life sized Barbie that was exactly proportional to the dolls; it could not stand on its own because its breasts made it too top heavy and its waist was too thin. If you look again at the picture above, the princesses have a similar, unnatural, bodily proportions. Are we sending the message to young children that to be a princess, get prince charming, and have a "fairytale life," you also need to be thin?

I am not sure though that having a plus sized all for getting rid of body expectations in the media. In fact it could send the wrong message. Yes, girls and boys as well should not grow up with unrealistic ideals about what a body "should be" or look like. At the same time, though, children should not grow up with the idea that it is alright to be unhealthfully overweight.

To prevent either from occurring, the responsibility lies not only in companies but also and more heavily on the the parents. Parents need to take an active role in educating their children on what is real and what is not real. These are cartoons and fairytales, and parents need to tell their children such. Growing up with an delusional body ideal is just as dangerous as delusional ideas about how the world works.

How can parents encourage healthier body image perspectives in kids? I am not entirely sure but simple things can go a long way:

  • Demonstrating a healthy relationship with food (eating and enjoying vegetables)
  • Demonstrating a healthy relationship with exercise 
  • Not pushing your diet onto your kids
  • Respecting your own body through exercise. Kids will see this and model it themselves
  • Avoiding fat shaming comments
  • Model healthful and mindful eating (actually eating at least one meal a day with them at a table without technology present instead of pushing a cereal bar in their face as you rush out the door to school or sports practice) 
  • Keeping healthful foods in the house (this is not to say that you should demonize junk food, which will only backfire because kids will find a way to get junk food and binge on them when they go to friend's houses). 
  • Show that occasional treats are OK but make sure they stay as treats (i.e. not everyday) 

Now I am not a parent nor am I telling you how to raise your kids, but it is impossible to avoid and shelter your kids from all the negative and distorted images in the world. It is possible though to give them  the right mindset to dicier for themselves what is real, healthy, and beautiful, and what is just a fairytale...but that is just my two watts.


  1. This is a great post, Chris! I agree with you -- there is a lot that parents can do to help their children to develop healthy body image. I mean, the media will always be there but talking about beauty and having kids understand that healthy trumps all other things is HUGE. I remember when I was younger I always heard my mom talking about "diets" and "having to lose 5 pounds". I don't think parents realize even small things like that can have an impact on their kids. Parents need to model healthy behaviour 100%.

    1. I had a friend whose mom was always on a diet and controlled her food, which rubbed off on her daughter. When she would go to other kid's houses though she would go crazy on the junk food because she never got it at home.