NOTE: Although I approach all book reviews objectively, in the interest of full disclosure, I will note that my book is included in the Resources section of The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents.
When author Marci Warhaft-Nadler approached me about reviewing The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents, she told me that she had aimed to write a book that was easy for parents to read and relate to; a kind of quick reference guide for parents about the body image issues their children face.
She has definitely met her goal. The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents is indeed easy to read, but still conveys valuable information about how to recognize body image problems and prevent them from taking root in our children’s lives. As she says in her preface, parents may feel powerless when their children are suffering, but they are not: “There are things we can do to help our kids grow up with a healthy self-esteem and positive body image…The first step is to understand the issues we’re facing, and the next step is to start dealing with them.”
And we must start young. As Ms. Warhaft-Nadler notes in her chapter “Ages 0-3: Do I look fat in these diapers,” it is essential that we build our children’s self-esteem from infancy if we are to help them negotiate the minefield of distorted body images they will face as they get older. She also talks throughout the book about role modelling, especially by mothers, who are often very critical of their own appearance. Having just read a study about the impact of maternal self-objectification on girls’ self-image, I can attest to the importance of that advice.
Beyond a breakdown by age, Ms. Warhaft-Nadler also addresses the idea of fat phobia in our culture, and how it can distort a child’s idea of what constitutes “healthy” whether in regard to weight or specific foods. She states that “somewhere along the line, we’ve managed to confuse being healthy with being skinny and the two are not always synonymous.”
A point that particularly rang true for me emerged in the discussion about healthy eating programs in school. Although such programs are implemented with the best of intentions, Ms. Warhaft-Nadler points out that they can have detrimental results, making healthy children anxious about how much fat they are consuming. I had this exact experience with my own son and had to reassure him several times that a balanced diet includes fat. This excessive fear of fat is an important point that is often overlooked in discussions of body image, and I was glad to see it addressed here.
I was also happy to see a chapter about boys and body image that included discussion about boys’ inability to talk about the issues they might have. As Pasadena College Gender Studies professor Hugo Schwyzer notes in the book, our society does not give boys the vocabulary to “vocalize the pain” they might be feeling.
Ms. Warhaft-Nadler is an eating disorder survivor who now runs Fit vs. Fiction, an organization that offers workshops to school-age kids about what being “fit” really means. Over the course of her career she has had many opportunities to talk to children and their parents about body image issues, and calls upon her experience for the “sticky questions” and “solid answers” that appear throughout the book and are collected in a Quick Reference section at the end. Sticky questions cover issues like what to say when your child is called fat by a friend, asks about dieting, or wants to wear inappropriate clothing, among several others.
Her emphasis on self-esteem building will serve children well. She offers many tips and techniques for parents to boost their kids’ opinion of themselves, including some excellent family self-esteem building activities tailored to children of different ages.
If you have any concerns about your child’s body image or have struggled to find the right things to say when your child gets down about him- or herself, The Body Image Survival Guide has the advice you need. The book will be published in February, 2013 but advanced copies are now available through the author’s Fit vs. Fiction website.
Readers of this blog also have a chance to win a free copy of the book! Simply visit the Fit vs. Fiction Facebook page. Click the Photos link, then leave a comment mentioning The Achilles Effect on the photo of the book cover, also shown above. (While you’re there, feel free to “like” the page too.) You will be entered into a random draw to receive a free, signed copy of the book! The draw will be held November 22, so don’t delay! Good luck!