THE BEANBAG PSYCHOLOGIST 12
Chink in the Mirror
Quickly jot down the words that jump to your mind when you hear the following words:
FOOD ATTRACTIVENESS HEALTH
An increasing number of school children are beginning to relate to food and eating in shockingly negative ways. To many children and young adults, food is not so much a factor that affects their health than something that affects their physical appearance, and consequently, their social desirability. Enough has been written and read about all the negative messages that media propagates with regard to body image (which essentially refers to the ways in which we think and feel about our body and appearance). Pictures of pencil thin women and perfectly muscular men used in magazines have been widely condemned as being unrealistic as most men and women who eat healthily cannot attain such low body weight and perfectly chiselled body parts. Movies that celebrate women who are beautiful by virtue of their waists that are thin as "noodles" and dramatic hour-glass figures while banishing plump and over-weight characters to the sidelines or in comic roles send a pretty clear message as to what our society considers attractive and what not.
This mass obsession with being lean has infiltrated our classrooms and a large group of parents and lunch boxes are pretty unhappy. Aromatic ghee dosas and cheese sandwiches are thrown right into the dustbins and dry toasts and skimmed milk are the preferred meal for school-going children as young as 10. This unrealistic fear of being fat is terribly misplaced and the blame doesn’t lie with just the children. Parents need to be careful while communicating their criticisms over their children's eating behaviours. Making fun of a large appetite, of excessive snacking and of body weight can prove very harmful to their kids' self esteem and body image. A joint learning exercise where parents and children explore healthy eating habits and re-establish a positive relationship with food in a mutually supportive manner will go a long way in establishing a conducive home environment where myths and misunderstandings about food can be challenged.
Families need to understand the place physical appearance has on the members' levels of self esteem. What is considered attractive by one's family may not be what one's peer group considers attractive! So who are we trying to please at the cost of our health and self-confidence? Parents need to take care not to complain of their own weight and appearance. Healthy play and exercise should be encouraged and taken up as a family routine: bonding this way hugely enhances relationships as well as health.
A poor body image renders the person vulnerable to depression and anxiety. The vulnerable individual has a distorted perception of his/her own appearance which then leads to poor eating habits, making the individual look under-fed, further fuelling his/her dissatisfaction with own appearance. This vicious cycle needs to be broken by embracing your body as an able machine which requires sufficient fuel to function and be productive. To tie your appearance to how much you value yourself is a sure way to damage your social and physical self-esteem.
Do remember this: if you are being bullied because of your weight or appearance by others, the dissatisfaction and low self esteem that you experience is NOT because of your weight. It is , in fact, a response to being bullied. Take a stand, be proud of who you are and get started on a healthier lifestyle for the sake of your physical and psychological health. We are, after all, a lot more than the sum total of two pairs of limbs, torso and a head of shiny hair!
SANGEETHA MADHU & JYOTHI RAVICHANDRAN, THE HINDU IN SCHOOL