Q: My daughter keeps thinking she should look Keira Knightley, but it seems like she’s been overweight since the day she was born. How can I help her be more realistic about her weight?
A: First, try to be understanding about how difficult it is for teens to be realistic about how they “should” look – as flawless celebs flash their pencil-thin thighs and sport cleavage on talk shows, reality TV, and movies. To keep her in touch with reality, I sometimes ask my 15-year-old daughter, “When was the last time you saw someone who looked like that walking down the street?”
In everyday life, most people just don’t look like that. Yet, despite some teen magazines’ efforts to help girls “get real” about their bodies and to feature more “plus-size” models, the standard is still unattainable for many girls.
Knowing that teens are inspired by experiences of other teens, I interviewed more than 100 young people who were overweight as adolescents, who then slimmed down in healthy ways. While most of them achieved a weight that would be considered healthy, some were still technically overweight.
An important take-home message is that it’s all relative—even though they weren’t all “thin,” all of the teens did reach a weight that made them happier and healthier than they were before. And many of them indicated that, even though they wouldn’t mind losing some more, they were, “okay with where they were,” weight-wise.
Robin S. captured this attitude well with, “I’m not going to be a skinny person. I thought I was for a minute, but I’m not. It’s genetics. Everyone in my family has big hips. This is the way I am. If someone doesn’t like it, oh well! As long as I keep maintaining, I’m okay.”
A heavier weight than is “ideal”, appearance-wise or health-wise, may be realistic for a teen that is very overweight and/or has been overweight since she was quite young. You might be able to help your daughter understand that if she got down much lower, she would likely find it much harder to stay there.
To be sure, most of us have a fantasy weight, and it’s often unrealistic. But maybe you can help your daughter get her head around the concept of what I call a “comfortable body weight.” It’s a weight at which you feel pretty good, given your history. Plus, it’s a weight that you don’t have to starve and exercise obsessively to maintain.
Photo By: LeeLeeLu