We are living in an era where everybody is famous for 15 minutes – or until the next Facebook photo update - and they want to spend that time looking good. And while vanity may not be a vice anymore, it can get unnerving to watch pre-pubescent girls from primary and middle school sections visiting dieticians so the picture on their profile resembles their favourite actress.
Dieticians say that obsessed with size-zero figures, school-going girls as young as 13-16 years are approaching them to look like actresses - Kareena Kapoor, Anushka Sharma are the hot favourites, incidentally - so their next photo update has more ‘Likes’ than the one before. Psychologists say that peer and parental pressures have only worsened for these impressionable girls fixated on looks in this if-you’ve-got-it-flaunt-it age, where it has become almost noble to be narcissistic.
Clinical psychologists have raised concerns over the offshoot of such exhibitionist fads. Going for crash diets may lead to hair fall among children, vitamin deficiency, weakness in bones and other physical ailments. Moreover the preoccupation with appearances doesn’t exactly keep one’s mental health in the pink. A child controlling hunger pangs bodes poor showing in academics they say. Besides, constantly looking in the mirror, persistently checking how many ‘Likes’ or comments a photo has received, relentless status updates and so on all make for disturbances and even affect sleeping patterns, let alone scholastic ability.
Dr Seema Hingorrany, clinical psychologist, said, “I had never seen children distraught over their bodies in the past. But obsessed with social networking sites, many young schoolgirls are now coming to me with body and image issues, one or two cases every month in the last year-and-a-half.
Parents are accompanying them to dieticians to enhance their body structure. An obese girl forced her mother to take her to the dietician. The mother could have cut down on fried foods in her diet and looked after her emotional health instead of taking her to a dietician. In another case, a girl came to me who was not even fat. But since someone had called her plump and boys were not approaching her, she went to a dietician.”
Hingorrany continued, “Some girls have inflicted a diet regime on themselves. They scream at their mothers not to cook fried food. Today’s generation is increasingly self-obsessed. If an endocrinologist or adiabetologist suggests a diet to some, they should go for it. Otherwise, being healthy and plump is part of growth at age 13 up to 18. Going overboard with a diet can cause depression, low self-esteem, low confidence and so on.”
While parents blame networking sites for their digitally-enslaved children, nutritionists believe peer pressure and parental stress are equally to be blamed for the trend, as parents often compare their children with others. Parents who took their young daughters to a dietician and later to a professional psychologist shared their concerns with MiD DAY. Their identities have been changed on request. Asha Shah, a parent in the western suburbs, said, “I guess the Internet can be blamed for a lot of the ideas children come up with. We are a food-centric family and my 14-year-old daughter is a little plump.
She heard someone in the family talk about a dietician and forced me to take her to one. I agreed only so I could keep a track of her diet. She lost weight drastically, by 4-5 kilograms. But after two months, when she left the diet, she was back to her normal weight, which has upset her. So I took her to a professional counsellor for advice.”
Surekha Gaikwad, another parent who took her child to a psychologist, said, “Peer pressure is making girls approach dieticians at a very early age. My daughter is 13. She turned conscious looking at other slim girls and these actresses and insisted that I take her to a dietician.
She was not obese but she wanted to look good. So six months ago, I began consulting a dietician. But after three months, when my daughter didn’t loose weight, she said it was baby fat, which would go on its own. We had paid a lot for the consultation and the dietician should have told us it was baby fat before we paid. Not losing weight stressed my daughter out so I had to take her to a professional counsellor.”
Dr Sunita Dube, dietician and director of Aryans Group of Hospitals, said, “Girls in the age group 13-15 do approach me. Once a girl asked me about liposuction in which excess fat is removed through laser treatment. These days, children Google everything and then come to consult us. Some also ask to be given a crash diet, which is not advisable for young kids. After listening to them, I first send them to a counsellor and then recommend my diet course, which helps them stay fit and keep away from junk food.”
Shveta Bhasin, nutritionist and dietician, said, “Why blame only networking sites? It is peer pressure and parents who should be blamed in equal measures for this trend. Sometimes, parents come to me saying they want their daughters to look slim and good because their friends’ daughters look better. I accept that hormonal changes occur at this age and one can definitely approach a nutritionist to control bad eating habits. I always make sure that girls who come to me stay fit rather than just slim.”