While driving my boys to school a few days ago, I asked them if they had any items on their Christmas wish list. Benjamin, my youngest son, told me that he wanted a Nintendo 3DS (something he’s wanted ever since his brother received one), and a Power Wheels vehicle. He described the drivable, battery-powered vehicle he was coveting and finished by looking at me earnestly and saying, “And Mom I looked at the commercial, and I felt like they wanted me to buy one!”
I couldn’t help but laugh at his description of how the advertising had affected him, but I was also a little amazed that it had made such an impact. After a few more questions, I learned that he’d seen the Power Wheels commercial four months ago when we were staying at a hotel. All these months later, he remembered it and wanted the product. If I’d ever wondered how much of an impact advertising could have on a child, Benjamin’s experience gave me an answer.
Of course, some of the messages a child sees each day are more damaging to their self-esteem and life outlook than others. And that’s why I’ve been watching my boys for the last week to learn what kind of “Dietainment” messages they see throughout the day. Unhealthy dieting messages disguised as entertainment aren’t just emotionally damaging; they can create unhealthy eating habits as well. And I had a feeling that my boys were being affected by these messages just as much as anyone else.
Every morning, after Zackary and Benjamin have dressed and eaten breakfast, they turn on one of their favourite Netflix shows to enjoy a few minutes of entertainment before school. And every superhero they see is sporting a physique that no man in real life could ever achieve. Then we listen to the radio as I drive the boys to the school bus. Commercials about the newest fitness centre or medical esthetics company promise the perfect body achieved with ease…for a price of course.
When my boys get home, they generally play video games or watch a little more television until supper. And in both the games and the shows, the main characters (including the kids) are all muscular and attractive males interacting with thin and attractive females. If there is a character that breaks that mold – the scrawny boy with glasses or the girl with a heavier build – the character is usually only there to be laughed at.
My boys are exposed to far less media than your average child, yet even their day contains more Dietainment than I’d like. I can just imagine how many unhealthy messages other children see each day! And my biggest fear isn’t just that they’ll grow up thinking that they need to look like their favourite television or movie heroes. It’s that they’ll grow up thinking their female peers need to be skinny girls with perfect hair and makeup to be worthy of their attention.
Earlier this year, Multi-Grain Cheerios created a pledge to stop Dietainment and with over 16,000 signatures collected so far, it’s clear the movement is important to Canadians. The pledge has been taken to Canada’s media companies to encourage an end to the Dietainment trend and two major outlets, Faze magazine and Divine.ca, have committed to no longer publishing Dietainment content as a result!
But that’s just a start and ensuring that conversation continues is crucial if we want to keep unhealthy body messages away from our children. If you haven’t already, sign the pledge today and show publishers that you don’t want your children exposed to Dietainment. And, most importantly, talk to your kids to ensure they know that what they see on television or in magazines isn’t real. Girls and boys both need to know that being healthy and happy is more important than being skinny or super strong. And with all of our help, we can make sure that our children always remember that!