Competitive Dance and Dieting: Can it Lead to Eating Disorders?
A new show, Dance Moms, premiered on Lifetime recently featuring thin, athletic little girls going to grueling lengths to give a perfect performance and putting up with a cruel and strict dance teacher, Miss Abby while being flanked by their moms, who are often the ones pushing and encouraging them in their dance endeavors.
Whenever I hear stories of girls being put in situations where there is an intense pressure to perform and look a certain way, I cringe internally. I think of the perfectionism that it can create, the feelings of inadequacy as you are judged against your peers and told you're never good enough.
While I'm all for a little healthy competition and teaching kids to recognize where their strengths and weaknesses are, the intense pressure from adults in your life can have lasting effects on young minds. I want my children to know when their best is good enough, to realize they won't win all the time at everything and while I have huge dreams and aspirations for them, to know their ultimate worth is not solely based on performance or appearance.
As someone who struggled with an eating disorder in high school, I think of those kids and I wonder, what are their chances to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the midst of such intense pressure to perform physically and to be perfect in every material way?
The National Eating Disorders Association lists the possible factors that can lead to eating disorders, including, among others, "feelings of inadequacy," "history of being teased or ridiculed because of weight or size," and "cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths."
Poor parenting by both mothers and fathers has been implicated in eating disorders. One study found that 40% of 9- and 10-year-old girls trying to lose weight generally did so with the urging of their mothers. A maternal history of eating disorders can be a factor in development of eating disorders in young girls, while paternal criticism of weight can lead to binging and purging in young males.
While eating disorders are complex and multifaceted, I think it's important for mothers to realize that just as encouraging your child on the stage can make them feel loved, it's even more important for those children to feel loved and adequate in their everyday lives as children. While there's nothing intrinsically wrong with strong, competitive atmospheres, it's that base at home you need to be building and genuinely aware of, valuing all aspects of your children, not just their appearance and performance on the dance floor.
Watch the show and tell us your thoughts. Dance Moms airs Wednesdays at 10 pm/9c on Lifetime.