Feeling Good in Your Own Skin

Written By: Rachel Strong
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Body image is a very touchy issue with today's kids. Since the 1950s, when Barbie was first released, the picture of the "ideal woman" has been almost impossible to attain. With her proportions, if Barbie was a real woman, she would be over 6 feet tall, have measurements of 39-18-33, and lack the body fat necessary for a monthly cycle. While a Barbie body was unattainable when she first came out, now, 50 years later, we as a society have become more sedentary. Part of this is because, unlike in the 1950s, we as parents today are less likely to tell our children to go play outside and be home for dinner. With dangerous neighborhoods, the lack of urban green space (parks), and the prevalence of child predators, it is almost foolish to let your children play outside without supervision. And our children have a longer way to go to get a "Barbie" body than our parents did.

But body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), the mental disorder in which people see their body differently than they really are, is not restricted to overweight children-or even to girls. Along with dolls, action figures contribute to the epidemic. Action figures show boys that they need to have biceps the size of their waist, six-pack abs, and a 5 o'clock shadow at 7 in the morning.

Another cause of an unattainable "perfect" body is television. The larger actors are given "sidekick" roles, are the comic relief, or are the villain. The thin, or at least fit, usually blonde actors get the leading roles and have their lives together (or at least okay lives). Some television shows (mostly reality TV such as American Idol, America's Next Top Model, or TLC's What Not To Wear) are doing a lot in changing this perception and feature "plus size" people in leading roles, but they are not always flattering.

There are some key signs your child may be suffering from BDD:

A compulsion to check him or herself out in the mirror (or even reflective glass walking down the street) constantly.

An inability to look at oneself in photos or mirrors, to the extent of removing mirrors from the house or refusing to be in family photos.

Compulsive touching of "problem" areas such as skin, hair, legs, arms, etc.

Excessive grooming habits (brushing hair, plucking, shaving, etc.)

Seeking reassurance from loved ones.

While this can describe most (if not all) teenagers, BDD goes one step further. This obsession can cause "clinically important" distress that impairs work. Body dysmorphic disorder-if left untreated-can lead to multiple plastic surgeries (and the risks involved with those), depression, anxiety, anorexia and other eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, feelings of worthlessness, and even suicidal thoughts.

Body dysmorphic disorder usually begins during adolescence, but it is starting earlier and earlier. But there are many ways to help your child be happy with his or her body.

First, start early. Let your child know you think he or she looks cute, but don't lie (if your child is morbidly obese and cannot move, that's one thing...). Not all babies are cute, but you can always find something nice to say. Do the same with your teen.

Second, don't be nitpicky about your child's looks. Nothing will give your child a "complex" faster than you saying they should change this or that, suggesting plastic surgery, or get them pimple cream (let your teen ask for it). Let your teen know you love them just the way they are.

Next, if your child needs help losing weight, help them. Take your child for a walk after dinner a few times a week. If your child is, like most of us were at their age, a chocoholic or a sugar-holic, don't buy these items when you are at the grocery store. Stop buying soda pop or other "empty calorie" foods. Just cutting out these foods and moving a little will do wonders for your child's weight and health.

Never ever ever pay for your child to get cosmetic plastic surgery-either removing, changing, or augmenting. (Of course, if something unthinkable happens and your child needs reconstructive surgery, that's something else.) This will only show your child that you agree that he or she has a "problem" area, even if you do not see a problem.

Finally, be ready to get help if you think your child needs it. There are psychologists who specialize in BDD, and will be able to help your child in ways you may not be able to.

Teaching your child to be happy in his or her own skin is one of the most important things you can do for your child.

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