Question: A 13-year-old girl continues to lose weight, making other girls in her class jealous. How should parents respond?
Answer: We're all under a lot of pressure in this culture to be thin. The media tells us this. Models, celebrities promote thinness. We are living in a culture of thinness because thinness, particularly for girls and women mean strong, beautiful, powerful and in control. Fat means ugly, stupid, sloppy. These are gross stereotypes, and it's all encompassing. You can't escape this.
This girl in particular is doing it to make other girls jealous. So first and foremost, try to have a discussion. It may be very, very difficult, because talking about weight is difficult for everybody, but I would want to know: Why is she doing this? What is she getting out of it? Does she feel pressure to lose this weight? How is her self-esteem? Does she feel competent and capable in other areas of her life like academics, like sports? And speaking of sports, is she involved in weight-restrictive sports like ballet, gymnastics, figure skating, long-distance running that actually promote thinness?
Then the parents want to understand: How much weight has she lost? How tall is she? Is she using diuretics or laxatives? Is she binging or purging? These are very complicated and very difficult questions, and the parents may not be able to get at it, but you've got to ask, because eating disorders are quite serious. In some situations, if the parents can't get to ask some of these questions, they can have a teacher, a coach, a nurse, the pediatrician, or even a child psychologist or psychiatrist help them out to evaluate the situation and see how serious it is.
But by all means begin at home, talk with your child about it, and think about it. How much are you focusing on thinness and weight reduction in your family, and how much is your family culture a mirror image of what's going on in the media?