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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Tag: daughters

09 Sep

Hey Schools, Quit Sending ‘Fat Letters’ and Mind Your Own Darn Business

Current Events 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

With that introduction out of the way, let me back up a second to say that I think you have our children’s very best intentions at heart. I really do. I honestly commend you for the incredible work you do for our youth, often with very few resources.

But speaking of resources, I wish you’d use the limited ones at your disposal to focus on the important mission you have — educating and nurturing our future leaders.

In 19 states, children of higher weights not only had to worry about trying to find back-to-school clothes in larger sizes, but they had to face potentially demoralizing letters sent home to their parents about their weights. As if the standardized academic tests, gym class fitness tests, and, heck, the lunchroom, weren’t stressful enough for our kids, now you’re printing out their BMIs on letterhead and sending it home like a demerit.

Let’s first start with the fact that BMI is flawed. It never has, nor will it ever be, a great measure of an individual’s specific health status. For one, it does not differentiate between the sources or distribution of weight. We know, for example, that body fat around a mid-section tends to be more problematic, but BMI can’t tell you this information. Research tells us too that BMI does not need to necessarily be reduced in order to improve health outcomes. So if it’s not a good measure of illness – or health – why are we so obsessed with it?

There are plenty of kids in our educational system who could benefit from less time in front of their laptops and more time on the playground. But those kids come in all shapes and sizes. If we are so concerned with the health of our children, we could put our resources toward addressing barriers to physical activity — like lack of safety in communities and availability of parks and play spaces. We could provide educational initiatives directed at parents on how to engage children in a healthy and varied approach to eating.

Parents have a lot on their plates – pun totally intended. You may think that sending letters to them telling them their kid is fat is helpful, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not. A letter doesn’t give parents the tools they need to inspire family changes toward health. It feels shaming, and shame leads to inaction, not action.

Finally, your however well-intentioned but misguided attempts to quell this obesity panic may have some unexpected consequences. By age 10, a third of girls and a fifth of boys say their weight is their number one worry. Number one! Not how they are going to get to Jamie’s house after school or even whether their parents are going to stay married, but their own weight. This anxiety about weigh can have dire results. Specifically, huge numbers of children are turning to dieting, which presents a big risk factor for children in developing unhealthy and dangerous eating behaviors, and sometimes eating disorders.

So we know that BMI is a poor indicator or health, all kids need help in creating healthy lifestyles, and a focus on BMI can lead to dangerous eating habits. So can we please rethink our focus here and start building playgrounds and improving the cafeteria fare instead of sending ‘fat letters’ home to vulnerable kids?

17 Jan

An Open Heart Speaks :: Interview with Kristine Carlson

Interview 4 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

How would you handle losing the person who was not only the most important in your life, but who, in many ways, was your life? If you’re Kristine Carlson, you might harness your the beauty of your pain and write a moving memoir, Heartbroken Open, about the profound lessons of self that loss teaches us.

Kristine is the widow and soul mate of Richard Carlson, world-renowned teacher and author of the best-selling series, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. When Richard died unexpectedly as the two were dancing into mid-life, Kristine, a incredible writer in her own right, was left to grieve the loss of her daughters’ father, her partner and lover, and the life that she had envisioned. In this process, she wrote a beautiful account of how she moved through her grief and how she discovered herself in the process.

Below, Kristine answers some of my questions in order to help others navigate not only loss, but any type of painful and life-changing experience. Enjoy… and grow.

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NTS: Tell us a bit about the person you were before the loss of your husband, Richard. What was your life life?

My life was all about being Richard’s wife and Mother to my children. I held space for him to do his spiritual work as an author and inspirational speaker, and I was “the crystal in the clock” making sure my family had everything they needed when they needed it. I had grown complacent to my own inner sense of passion, and I wasn’t feeling my life like I did after Richard died. Grief moved in and added tremendous awareness. Richard’s death woke me from my slumber; the funny thing was, I didn’t know I was asleep.

NTS: In Heartbroken Open, you take on the enormously challenging topics of loss and grief. What made you decide to write about these things from such a personal place?

Losing your spouse, the way I did so suddenly, is a devastating loss. I was blessed to have such an amazing support system but in my most primal grief, I barely felt I would survive. Richard said to me in October before he died, “Kris, what I love about the human spirit, is those people that take their greatest tragedy and allow it to move them forward, giving their lives greater meaning.” I believe he was going through a personal transformation at this point and unconsciously sensed the end of his life on the horizon. I wrote Heartbroken Open so that a real story of life, love and loss would be told uncensored. I believe that my marriage to Richard was rare, and I want to honor him and my own presence on this earth by helping others heal. It seems that any story of value must be told from authenticity, and a memoir is very personal. I answered a divine call when I wrote Heartbroken Open.

NTS: Many of us wonder how we could ever survive the loss of our spouse or someone we hold that dear to our hearts. What have you learned about your ability to survive and thrive?

The reason why Richard’s “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” book series was so popular is because those books were born from the chapters of our lives. I believe that my resiliency and strength came from living a gentle lifetime of love with a remarkable soul while practicing a healthy way through life. Any person who practices life as their spiritual journey says “yes” to all of life knowing that it holds trials and suffering along the way. We don’t always choose our circumstances (maybe on some unconscious level we do) but we can choose how we move forward. I learned to move forward, presently, invoking grace and love to help me survive. I followed a mantra: Surrender, Trust and Accept to Receive a new life. I walked into the fire of my grief and allowed it to burn me into liberation from my pain. My regrets taught me to accept what I cannot change and to ultimately let go. I can now say with a smile: I truly don’t sweat the small stuff and I have lived through the big stuff.

NTS: You speak in the book about living presently. How were you able to stay so present with your grief rather than avoiding it?

I did both. I lived with my grief and sometimes I avoided it. What I noticed quickly was that the shortest distance out of the foxhole was to be in it (grief) so that I could express it out. My body would tell me if I was avoiding it; I would have a tremendous burning in my gut. Then, I would sob and feel relief. There is no way out except going all the way in. Grief taught me presence. I lived in the now because there would be no pain there. I suppose this was my natural health stepping in to avoid pain, but what an incredible gift to practice presence for survival. I lived this way thoughtfully for much of the time. When I didn’t, I would express my emotions and return to the moment with peace.

NTS: Tell us about the process of changing your identity from wife to widow. Were there other areas of your life where you found yourself needing to change your perception of your identity?

Everything changes when your spouse dies. I was surprised to find myself dealing with issues I thought I had long left behind in my youth but they were just resting in the shadows of my relationship. Many things surfaced in my life to be healed so that I could transform to a new level of awareness. My authenticity grew as my identity died. At first, I was deeply afraid of being alone and terrified that I was now a “single” woman in mid-life. I have learned to find my way and have also accepted that I may be “single” for the rest of my life. The difference between me and many people is that I have lived the relationship of my dreams. I have survived and accepted the loss of it and found my way back to joy. My personal goal is to be complete within myself living with a greater capacity for love. This may or may not manifest in the same way or kind of relationship I had with my beloved. I trust that all will be revealed, in time, and I live life by divine lead.

NTS: On NTS we speak a great deal about staying nourished in mind, body, and spirit. How were you able to sustain and nourish yourself through the most difficult moments?

I knew not to drink alcohol, especially in the beginning, because I didn’t want to be under the influence of a depressant. I also didn’t want to use any prescription drugs that my numb me out although I did use sleep medication at times. I wanted to learn and grow because I was curious about this process of grief and how it would unfold for me. While I loathed the pain, I relished the fertile ground and the opening to my wisdom and the awakening of my spirit that this experience of loss brought with it. I hiked and I drank lots of water. I stayed flexible with my schedule often cancelling engagements so that I could grieve in stillness. I was very gentle with myself. I took baths every night and I had a professional massage every month. I committed to myself not to make any huge life changing decisions the first year. I asked for help from my family and friends when I needed it. Four years later, miraculously I haven’t been sick one time and I am the healthiest I have ever been! Go figure…you can come through your worst nightmare in greater health.

NTS: You talk about encounters you had with others trying to support you through your loss. How do you feel we can best support one another through difficult times?

The best we can offer is to hold space for grief. There is no fixing it or solving it. You can offer to assist in the stuff of life that is mundane—like food preparation, driving the kids to school or sports, and household chores. This kind of help is often very appreciated. “Listening” is probably the most important thing you can offer and the greatest gift. Sitting presently without needing to change whatever arises even when it triggers you. These are the most helpful things one person can do for anyone in grief. There is little comfort in trite expressions. Keep your advise to a minimum and you willingness to be present to the maximum, and you will be the greatest support. Create a tribe around the person in grief supporting them with the power of community. Send them to my free on-line support group (Heartbroken Open support circle) at http://www.kristinecarlson.com.

You can learn even more from Kristine in her beautiful book, Heartbroken Open. You can also connect with her via her website or by following her on twitter. Image Credit :: Kristine Carlson.

NTS-Medium

12 Jan

Vogue plays dress-up with little girls

Current Events, Media Literacy 42 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

As if the media standards for looking youthful and thin weren’t absurd enough, apparently adult women are now expected not only look prepubescent, but Pre-K as well.

Or so one might assume from a recent spread in Vogue Paris, a notoriously racy and boundary-pushing publication, that featured girls age six donning Valentino gowns, dripping with jewels, painted with heavy make-up, and sporting satin bras.

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The December fashion piece was entitled “Cadeaux” (or “Gifts”, for those who need to brush up on high school French) and featured girls who should be spending time reading adventure stories or playing kickball lounging on leopard-print sofas giving their most come-hither stares and reapplying their wine-colored lipstick with manicured nails. In one particularly unseemly photograph, a bejeweled youngster is featured with a toothbrush in her mouth. If this was Parents magazine, I’d applaud the promotion of dental hygiene. But this is Vogue, and there is nothing that doesn’t ooze with sex in this publication.

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Tom Ford, fashion icon, guest edited the issue; however, it seems to be Carine Roitfeld, editor-in-chief, who’s taking the heat. Actually, make that former editor-in-chief, as the woman who told reporters that she tries to do “something every month that is… not politically correct,” has “stepped down,” while rumors fly.

Fortunately, or so I hope, most women will recognize not only the ludicrousness of this 15-page spread, but also the potential danger that exists in portraying girls in this way.

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So, what’s wrong with playing a little dress-up?

Portraying girls in adult apparel and situations and portraying adult women as young girls (à la Britney Spears sucking on a lollipop in a Catholic school girl uniform) reinforces the sexualization of youth, something that harms both girls and society.

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In fact, the American Psychological Association created a Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls and found that these media, products, and societal practices are significantly harming the healthy development of young girls. Dr Eileen Zurbriggen, Chair of the APA Task Force, stated unequivocally, “We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”

Messages like these in Vogue are sent to young girls during a critical period of identity development. They implicitly convey a message of objectification wherein the girls become objects of adoration for ideals of beauty and sexuality. Girls then internalize these messages and develop shame and fear around their bodies, which results in things like anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and impaired sexual development.

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And the effects don’t end there. Society suffers as well, with the sexualization of girls being linked to sexist attitudes, poorer relationships between men and women, and sexual harassment. And consider this: If a young girl is too caught up with shame and fear about her appearance to do things like raise her hand in class or join the science club, we as a society lose out on enormous intellectual and leadership potential that could push us forward.

So while little girls playing in mommy’s clothes and make-up may seem benign, it’s not. Vogue Paris is doing a disservice not only to little girls everywhere, but to all us.

What are your reactions?

NTS-Medium

20 Jun

A Father's Role in Developing a Healthy Self-Image

Ideas to Consider 3 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

I don’t like to limit my aspirations, but I have accepted that I will never be a father. And thank goodness for small blessings – they have quite a job. Just like mothers, fathers are responsible for helping their children develop into educated, respectful, and self-sufficient adults while balancing demanding careers, potentially challenging marriages, and (hopefully) personal growth needs (read: achieving the highest score in Wii bowling). Meanwhile, a father has the added burden of knowing just what the just a bit too suave sixteen-year-old guy is thinking as he puts his hand dangerously close to his daughter’s bottom… Fatherhood is clearly complicated business.

One of the many tasks with which dads are charged, a challenging one at best, is to help their children develop a healthy relationship with their bodies and selves. In a culture consumed with the Keira Knightlys and Adrian Petersons of the world (and of them there are few…), this task can feel Sisyphean – reminiscent of Greek mythology’s king who was forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to repeatedly watch it roll back down. For eternity.

Fortunately, experts on such matters can provide some guidance. One of these experts is Margo Maine, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who has studied father-daughter relationships extensively and written my hands-down favorite eating disorder-related book (and that, my friend, is quite an endorsement!), Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness. While Dr. Maine focuses particularly on girls and dads, I am going to try to generalize her guidance for fathers of both genders. Here are a few of her main points (and my explanations):

1. Teach your child to say no and set limits. In my opinion, no lesson is more important than that of respecting one’s self. When you are no longer around to protect your children from the pressures that be, a healthy sense of their own rights and boundaries will be the key. This means helping children understand what belongs to them – their bodies, their ideas, their passions – and that they have the right to assert themselves when someone attempts to violate or belittle these.

2. Help your child develop values other than consumerism. Not to sound like a grandma here, but today’s world is just little bit different. Getting caught up in the newest, flashiest, and trendiest is hard to avoid. Help your child see beyond the surface by demonstrating the value you place on what’s deeper – things like nature, friendship, volunteering, and real-time (and real person) communication

3. Show interest in his/her activities. So maybe your child doesn’t share your fondness for all that is Meatloaf. Or you just can’t understand what’s so appealing about vampires. To close the gap, push yourself to step into his or her world and keep an open mind (isn’t open-mindedness another value you want to promote?). You may discover your beloved 80’s rock bands are now center stage on Glee.

4. Show respect for real people of substance. Instead of discussing the latest multi-million dollar contract of the NBA rookie or how many plastic surgeries Heidi has really had, spend some time talking about real role models – Lisa Ling, Blake Mycoskie (founder and CEO of TOMS Shoes) , or your grandmother who marched for civil rights. And have open discussions when former role models (ahem, Tiger…) fall from grace.

5. Watch what you say about others’ bodies. This applies to celebrities, strangers, and those close to you (this includes your wife). I can’t tell you how many times I have overheard fathers making comments about the “chick with the nice butt” (or worse – use your imagination) across the room with their children in earshot. Even if it’s your son, remember that your daughter could be dating a guy like him one day. Consider what such messages communicate. Do you really want your daughter’s boyfriend speaking like that?

6. Examine your own weight, eating, or body image issues. Yes, fathers have issues too. Are you critical of your lack of locks up top? Feeling pressure to lose the gut? Take note of the thoughts and feelings you have about your own appearance and then consider how these might be being relayed to your children. Work on making peace with your looks so that they can be at peace with theirs.

7. Become more media-literate. And my favorite… Help your child understand the fantasy world that is the media. Young people (and old, for that matter) often have a hard time separating reality from the “truth” of the image in front of them. Remind your child that images (s)he sees on the billboard or movie trailer are retouched, airbrushed, or sometimes even completely computer generated. Help make your child a more critical consumer

And one last note… Remember that you are up against incredible forces – jealous peers, the weight loss and fitness industries, and Hollywood, to name a few. Expect that your children will struggle with seeing themselves as quite as beautiful and amazing as you see them. Just keep reminding them every day. Even if they forget, they won’t.

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