I'll confess I have felt a little out of sorts all week, and I'm fully aware that sugar is the culprit. From Saturday (the day of my Dad's birthday party), through Easter Sunday and on till last night, I've been surrounded by cakes and cookies and an abundance of candy. I share on the blog (and in a passing reference in class) my love for peeps -- and students bring me still more peeps. And I eat them. I promise myself only one box of peeps -- and then I eat three in one sitting.
I've felt weak and light-headed for several days; today I need to restrict a bit and stay away from the sweet stuff. Thanks to the holiday, I won't be near the temptations that linger in my departmental "party room", and that is a blessing.
Last night in youth group, we talked about body image. Experience with youth groups and college students has taught me that there is no more difficult topic to raise with young people than weight and appearance. It's relatively easy, by comparison, to talk about drugs and sex. Most kids are able to distance themselves (somewhat) from a discussion on drugs and alcohol; the teens love the weeks where we engage in frank, open dialogue about sexuality. But talking about the body is much harder. After all, we live in a culture which demands physical perfection of the very young, both boys and girls. It would be a rare teen indeed (I have yet to meet one) who could go through adolescence entirely immune from those pressures.
We talked at some length last night about where it is our kids learn about the "ideal body." Some simply said the "media" or "peers", others named specific magazines, television shows, and celebrities. (America's Next Top Model seems to be the culprit de jour in fostering this anxiety.) We talked about the bodies they long to have. (The most commonly named women's bodies that our teen girls desired: Mary-Kate Olson, Paris Hilton, and Cristina Aguilera. For the boys, it was Vin Diesel and -- shock of all shocks to me -- Sylvester Stallone! The age discrepancy between the boys' and girls' ideals was hard to miss. I'm not too happy with the Mary-Kate reference either).
The more dangerous (and yet rewarding) activity is to ask all of the kids, boys and girls alike, to share a little about what they like and don't like about their own bodies. It's tempting to want to forego the discussion of what they dislike about themselves. After all, why on earth would youth leaders want their kids to be more focused on their own perceived shortcomings than they already are? Shouldn't we getting them to focus less, not more, on their own bodies? But there is value, tremendous value, in hearing that other teens, including those who are perceived by their peers as very attractive, struggle with the same anxieties and fears as everyone else. The sheer universality of the self-doubt, a problem that transcends race and sex, is often very comforting to teens. It's vital that kids hear how other kids perceive themselves. As they listen, they realize that most of their peers don't think of their own bodies the way their peers do. And of course, the hope is that if they realize that their friends have wildly distorted self-image, they will understand that perhaps their own perception of their bodily flaws is equally distorted.
Still, it's not the sort of topic that can be neatly wrapped up in two hours. Next week, we do some follow up, with some affirmation exercises that (one hopes) leaves the kids feeling far more encouraged about their bodies and their ability to resist cultural influences.
It's a busy day, lots of errands to run on this day off. More later.