How To Talk About Body Image with Positive Language
Body image—a person’s beliefs and perceptions about her or his body size and shape and overall appearance—can present significant issues in terms of self-esteem and health. Pervasive images in media tend to convey rigid and uniform standards of beauty and to make these standards seem real, normal, and attainable. In fact, standards of beauty have become harder and harder to attain. For example, the current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population. Boys, too, may feel pressure from media and peers to attain an ideal body shape in order to emulate sport stars and other public personalities. A “bias for beauty” operates in almost all social situations: experiments show we react more favorably to physically attractive people in settings ranging from classrooms, to job interviews, to court proceedings.
Body image in terms of size and shape is of particular current concern. Weight-based teasing is associated with depressive symptoms and thinking about (and attempting) suicide among girls and boys in grades 7 to 12. In one American survey, 81% of ten-year-old girls had already dieted at least once. A recent Swedish study found that 25% of 7 year old girls had dieted to lose weight – they were already suffering from 'body-image distortion', estimating themselves to be larger than they really were. Similar studies in Japan have found that 41% of elementary school girls (some as young as 6) thought they were too fat. Even normal-weight and underweight girls want to lose weight.
What to do and say:
As an adult role model, remember that your body image plays a role in your children’s thinking about their own bodies. What messages might you be sending?
- Use language that does not reinforce the idea that appearance is the most important thing.
- Use language that avoids a single, narrow standard of beauty.
- Let children hear you talk back to the media when they present destructive images.
- Focus on the language that you use to describe others and avoid negative or competitive comparisons about appearance.
- Acknowledge your own feelings of dissatisfaction with your appearance, shape, size, and weight and think about how you talk about your body and eating habits.
- Avoid “fat talk”—speaking negatively about size and shape and, in particular associating size and shape with character. Think a little about the impact of common statements like, “You’ve lost weight, you look great!”
- Avoid talk about dieting or joking about how fattening foods are.
- De-emphasize numbers!
- Talk about play, movement, and exercise in your own life and that of your children as sources of pleasure and as essential to health rather than a means of looking good.
- Make it clear that judging others on appearance and body shape and size is unfair and unacceptable.
- Discuss the impact of prejudicial attitudes and behavior on individuals and communities.
- Use your unspoken example to strongly support what you tell children about healthy eating and healthy living. For example: let them see you munching on fruit for a snack.
- Watch out for and counter teasing and bullying based on appearance or body size or shape.
- Emphasize an inclusive body-positive focus in physical education activities.
- Examine your own teaching/parenting practices to ensure that body image discrimination does not occur in your teaching/parenting methods.
- Watch for restricted eating habits – kids need fat and a variety of foods to grow.
Kate Fox, Mirror, mirror: A summary of research findings on body image
Motives: why we look in the mirror, 1997, http://www.sirc.org/publik/mirror.html
The Student Body: Promoting Health at Any Size, Body Image Research Program
The Commonwealth Fund. (1997). In Their Own Words: Adolescent Girls Discuss Health and Health Care Issues.
Guillen & Barr. (1994). Journal of Adolescent Health, 15, 464-472.
Levine. (1997). Plenary Presentation at the Third Annual Eating Disorders on Campus Conference, Penn State University.
Aufreiter, N., Elzinga, D. & Gordon, J. (2003) Better Branding. The McKinsey Quarterly, 4.
Myers et al. (1992). Journal of Communication, 42, 108-133.
Positive Adoption Language
The way we talk—and the words we choose—say a lot about what we think and value. When we use positive adoption language, we say that adoption is a way to build a family just as birth is. Both are important, but one is not more important than the other.
Choose the following positive adoption language instead of the negative talk that helps perpetuate the myth that adoption is second best. By using positive adoption language, you’ll reflect the true nature of adoption, free of innuendo.
Born to unmarried parents
Terminate parental rights
Make an adoption plan
Biological or birthfather
Making contact with
Permission to sign a release
Child placed for adoption
Child with special needs
Child from abroad
Adopted child; Own child
Adoptable child; available child
Track down parents
An unwanted child
Child taken away
Words not only convey facts, they also evoke feelings. When a TV movie talks about a "custody battle" between "real parents" and "other parents," society gets the wrong impression that only birthparents are real parents and that adoptive parents aren’t real parents. Members of society may also wrongly conclude that all adoptions are "battles."
Positive adoption language can stop the spread of misconceptions such as these. By using positive adoption language, we educate others about adoption. We choose emotionally "correct" words over emotionally-laden words. We speak and write in positive adoption language with the hopes of impacting others so that this language will someday become the norm.
Reprinted from OURS Magazine, May/June 1992 http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/
Sexual Orientation/Family Diversity
In order to make our school safe for every participant—children, teachers, parents—it is critical that we are aware of and responsive to the language that we hear, whether from students, teachers, or parents. Language that is anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) needs to be addressed immediately and directly. This includes comments made among young children who make gender-specific comments such as “Only boys can do that.” or “You’re a sissy.” or “That’s so gay.” along with other similar comments.
According to GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network), anti-LGBT speech in schools is “still something of an epidemic across the United States.” Furthermore, LGBT students have reported that faculty do not intervene frequently enough. For example, on the latest GLSEN study, 41.4 percent of self-identified LGBT students reported that staff members never intervene, and another 43.4 percent reported that staff members only sometime do so (Educational Leadership, Vol. 69, No 1, page 57).
As Robert A. McGarry writes in his article “Breaking Silences” in the September 2011 Educational Leadership, “It take courage to break the silence and have hard conversations about aspects of teaching practice that we otherwise tend to repress or ignore.” The following terms, definitions, and language are to help us all directly respond to language and comments that are degrading, hurtful, or disrespectful to others.
It is important to remember that sexual orientation is a fundamental, normal part of a person’s identity (Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel). This publication is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School Psychologists and can be found on several websites. See below.
“It is important for students from every kind of family to see their lives reflected in the classroom or the school.” An Introduction to Welcoming Schools
Terms to Know with Child-Appropriate Language from That’s a Family: Discussion and Teaching Guide and Welcoming Schools.
Gay: a man who loves another man [in a romantic way], or a woman who loves another woman [in a romantic way]. Or, “A person who loves, in a very special way, someone who is the same gender. For example, a gay man wants to be involved with and love another man.”) An Introduction to Welcoming Schools, page 51.
Lesbian: a woman who loves another woman [in a romantic way].
Heterosexual: A person who loves someone of the opposite sex in a romantic way.
Homosexual: A person who loves someone of the same sex in a romantic way.
Straight: Another word for heterosexual.
Bisexual: A person who can love either a man or a woman in a romantic way.
Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. To put it another way:
Male and female are sex categories, while "masculine" and "feminine" are gender categories. (World Health Organization Website)
Transgender: When the sex a person is born with doesn’t match the sex they feel inside their heads and hearts. In other words, a person who is born a boy, but feels inside like a girl, or a person who is bon a girl, but feels inside like a boy. Being transgender is not the same as being gay.
Mixed Family: When people of different racial backgrounds are part of the same family, it is a mixed-race or transracial family. People of different ethnic, religious, or national backgrounds can also form families that are “mixed” in terms of culture, skin color, language, and religious practices. Other terms people may use include blended, double, or interracial.
Blended Family: Two families that come together to form a new family.
Some Family Structures: Mixed Families, Adoptive Families, Grandparents/Guardians, Gay and Lesbian Parents, Separated and Divorced Families, Single-Parent Families, Foster Parents
Do: Use Gender-Expansive Messages: Instead of saying, “Girls don’t…, Boys don’t…,” messages should be “Boys can…, Girls can…, Children can…”
Don’t: Use hurtful language or allow it to go unnoticed: “That’s so gay,” “queer,” “sissy,” and “fag” are all words used to hurt another person, “put down” another person, or to say something or someone is stupid.
Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators & School Personnel This document can be found at http://www.apa.org/; http://www.aap.org/,
“What Does Gay Mean?” How to Talk with Kids about Sexual Orientation and Prejudice This document and others can be found at http://www.nmha.org/
http://www.apa.org/ (American Psychological Association)
http://www.aap.org/ (American Academy of Pediatrics)
http://www.nmha.org/ (Mental Health America)
http://www.glsen.org/ (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Educator Network)
http://www.tolerance.org/ (Teaching Tolerance)
People with disabilities prefer to be seen for their individuality, not their disability.
|| Instead of:
|People-first language –
People with disabilities
|Specific language –
Person with cerebral palsy
Person who uses a wheelchair
|Connotation-free language –
Person with disabilities
- handicapped (derives from “cap-in-hand” an association with beggars)
How and What to Say
The guiding rule is to show respect.
Speak directly to a person with a disability, even when using a sign language interpreter or special aide.
Do ask questions!
Education, information, and interpersonal relationship building are the best ways to counteract stereotypes and negative attitudes about people with disabilities.
|It’s okay to:
|Ask about a person’s disability
|Ask a person with a speech impairment to repeat themselves
|Above all, think about what you say! “I’d rather die than be in a wheelchair.”|
Special Considerations (Key Word: ASK!)
Ask before Helping.
Accept No for an Answer!
Ask exactly how to help...
... if they say Yes!
Ask before touching an assistive device.
These are an extension of their bodies.
Do not lean on, push, or help with any assistive device.
Never move an assistive device out of reach.
Ask if it is acceptable to shake hands.
Shaking hands with someone who relies on his or her arm for balance or who has an artificial limb could be unsafe.
Many people with disabilities lead independent lives and prefer no assistance.
People with visual disabilities need their arms for balance; it is therefore best to offer your arm or elbow to lead or for support if they ask to be guided.
|For visual disability:
Guide dogs must remain alert and unobstructed.
Do not pet or distract.
Always walk on the side opposite to where the guide dog walks.
Introduce yourself first ...
... before asking to make any form of physical contact. Ask others to do the same.
When directing to nearest exit ...
... give instructions based on where they are in the room and mention any obstructions.
|For people using hearing aides:
Speak in a normal tone.
Hearing aides are set to standard voice levels.
Check for accessibility for people with physical and/or visual disabilities.
Ensure that all items, facilities and tools for safety are within reach.
Adapted from Anti-Defamation League article, “Equal Treatment, Equal Access”
Famous People with Disabilities
Talking Respectfully about Religion and Belief
For many years people subscribed to the idea that it was improper to talk about religion and belief in heterogeneous settings. Unfortunately, the failure to talk about these topics can contribute to misconceptions and prejudice. Acknowledging the large number of differing world religions (20 or more major religions and tens of thousands of faith structures) and the significant number of people who identify as non-affiliated or non-believing, some general guidelines for respectful speech about religion and belief follow.
- Do not assume that you know another person’s belief system.
- Recognize that some people do not subscribe to a theology or faith tradition.
- Talk about your beliefs from the “I perspective.”
- Talk and listen without trying to convert others to a different faith or belief system.
- Use positive and inclusive language.
- Focus on common values and practices while noting differences.
- Be knowledgeable. Ensure that all faiths and belief systems are represented accurately. (Check in library and curricular materials, too.)
- Avoid words that have a pejorative connotation—fanatic, cult.
- Avoid words that convey stereotypical images.
- Do not confuse religion with race, nationality, or language group.
- Do not confuse family traditions with religious beliefs.
- Use accurate religious definitions of words, particularly those that are misused or controversial such as jihad, fundamentalist, etc.
- Confront jokes and other statements that include slurs.
- Discuss the impact of prejudicial attitudes and behavior on individuals and communities.
- Know and respect people’s boundaries.
What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination
Countering stereotypes about the mid-east and Islam http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/globalconnections/mideast/educators/types/lesson1.htm
Information about Buddhism
Information on Hinduism
http://www.nationalcathedral.org/learn/interfaithPrograms.shtml --The National Cathedral
http://theislamiccenter.com/ – The Islamic Center of Washington
http://www.whctemple.org/-- The Washington Hebrew Congregation
http://www.nationalshrine.com/ --The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
www.sgi-usa-washingtondc.org/ -- Soka Gaki International (Buddhist)
http://saintsophiawashington.org/ -- Greek Orthodox Cathedral DC