While enjoying a coffee and a sleepy cuddle with my toddler this week, a commercial came on tv that both pissed me off and brought me to tears. Perhaps it’s the pregnancy hormones, but more likely it was the beautiful little girl sleeping in my arms. The little girl who looks at her mama’s blossoming pregnant body with a grin and a “hi baby” greeting; the little girl who has no preconceived notions about what her body should or should not look like; the little girl who is far too busy gathering rocks and kicking balls to concern herself with how many calories she is burning; the little girl who loves the water and has no worries about whether she is “ready” for swimsuit season.
The commercial that sparked my outpouring of emotion is for Multi Grain Cheerios and you can see it here. This commercial shows young girls reading different messages from a variety of media sources. The messages that they are reading all focus on unhealthy weight loss, celebrity diet secrets, and being ready for bikini season. As I watched the commercial with my innocent baby girl tucked into my arms I felt my heart breaking for her because, even though I hope she has the confidence to resist these unhealthy messages, someday she may internalize them and use them to measure herself against.
Dietainment, or “unhealthy diet messages disguised as entertainment”, bombard us in many different forms from the time we wake until the time we tuck our smartphones in at the end of the night. Conversations about weight loss fads dominate water cooler conversations, comparisons of diet tricks dominate our vernacular, and the negative messages about (predominantly) women’s bodies are deeply ingrained in our little girls and little boys at startlingly young ages.
So what do we about this? How can we protect our little girls and boys from internalizing these unhealthy messages and instead grow up to regard their bodies as sources of strength, health, and empowerment?
The only answer I have is to go back to what is within our circle of control. When it comes to the multi-billion dollar dietainment industry, the only thing within our circle of control is ourselves and how we choose to respond to dietainment. Do we continue to buy the magazines? To join in the fad diet conversations? To express our own internalization of these negative messages in front of our children?
We need to build ourselves up in front of our kids and help them understand that it’s ok to feel confident about the bodies we are born with. We need to acknowledge the negativity of dietainment and open up a dialogue with our children about it. We, as adults, need to start believing that OUR bodies are sources of strength and health, and ignore the media’s constant pressure to be beach-body-ready.
This isn’t an easy idea. As a subscriber to magazines in which dietainment is evident with every turn of a page I know that I need to make different choices and engage in healthier weight conversations myself. The media does not make it easy to ignore, but the future body confidence of the little girl in my arms makes it worth the challenge.