Children and Body Image

body image and childhood Just below the surface of the water he began pointing to his stomach.

“What?”

We were in the pool hanging on to the edge and with a very solemn face, he pointed to his stomach again and said, “I’m fat.”

I was stunned by his self-awareness and sense of shame.

My eight-year-old grandson had packed on an extra layer recently and I realized that none of us had paid attention to this fact… until he spoke those painful words.

And for that suspended moment I didn’t know what to say. I knew that he trusted me enough to share this secret and I was worried that I’d fail him.

One wrong word and he’d likely end up with body image issues that I know too well.

The word “hippo” comes to mind when in a cut to the core, revelation by a neighbor boy, I owned this distorted view. To be fair, I had just flipped said neighbor boy over my shoulder onto his back for teasing my brother.

Today, as I look back at those old black and white photos, I see that I wasn’t fat at all. I just wasn’t thin. But that word has shaped a lifetime of hurt, fear, and at times a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What could I say that to this little grandson that would ease his fear without a lie between us?

I said a silent prayer and dove in.

“From the time we are born, our bodies begin changing and growing. Your body is changing right this very minute and you have a job to do to help it be the best and strongest one it can be.”

“I need to eat good food, right Nana?”

“Yes, and you need to stay really active. I’ll help you. We’ll do it together.”

And so the adventure in pursuing a much more active lifestyle has begun.

In the last few weeks, we’ve ridden bikes together, made plans to ski more this winter, and thrown around a baseball… a lot. I am so proud of him, I can see him purposely making choices to move his body.

Did you know that September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month?

And that childhood obesity has increased more than fourfold among those ages 6 to 11?

More than 23 million children and teenagers in the United States ages 2 to 19 are obese or overweight, a statistic that health and medical experts consider an epidemic.

Let’s start at home.

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Firecracker. That’s how my husband described me when we first met. I like to think that it was a compliment pertaining to my penchant for high-energy go-go. I am the token baby boomer in this group. The one who is stalling when it comes to elastic waistband pants and evenings in the recliner. This fearless desire to roam the earth started quite early, when as a toddler, my father would nail my bedroom door shut so that I wouldn’t head out in the wee morning hours going door-to-door in search of breakfast or a toy. True story. Today, our beautiful life consists of an empty-nested, second marriage, 10 children, 13 grandchildren, and a yen for travel and discovery. I ski. He golfs. And together we play tennis and work on creating memories and traditions that bind our collective hearts together. After years of shopping center marketing, ad agency ownership, and some social media giddy up for the education and medical esthetic industry, I’ve learned that I am most at home sharing my love for a good story and the next adventure.

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