Therese J. Borchard writes the daily Beliefnet.com blog Beyond Blue. Her memoir “Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes” is just out, followed by a handsome book of therapy notes called "The Pocket Therapist" in April 2010. Subscribe to Beyond Blue here or visit her at www.ThereseBorchard.com.

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Bye-Bye Barbie

I think Barbie has gained a few pounds since I played with her. But she still seems awfully thin in her movie Barbie Diaries, which I watched five times last week. In addition to her gaining popularity by inventing lipstick that can be disguised as a highlighter (inspired when her best friend got busted for applying lip gloss during Science class), she wears these fashionable jeans that show off her totally unrealistic figure.

I cringed when I heard two-year-old Katherine, whose passion for food exceeds her love for dolls say, “When I grow up I will turn into Barbie.”

Maybe we should move to Madrid, where the fashion industry is having a hot debate about how thin is too thin for models. Ultra-thin models, those who had a body mass index well below average, were not allowed to sashay down the catwalk and were banned by organizers of Madrid’s Fashion Week. Critics there argue that the starved look is dangerous because fashion models are role models, especially for teenage girls.

“The fashion industry’s promotion of beauty as meaning stick thin is damaging to young girls’ self-image and to their health,” Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said in a statement to CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer. “Young girls aspire to look like the catwalk models. When those models are unhealthily underweight, it pressurizes girls to starve themselves to look the same.”

It’s not any better in this country, and I’m as guilty as Gap ads for fueling that philosophy. This summer, when kids ambled around the pool with their snow cones and pixie sticks, I became somewhat of a health food Nazi. But as any mom knows, as soon as one mom gives in, it’s all over. One afternoon my two had gobbled down half of the snack bar: Doritos, Skittles, Klondike bars. But Katherine wanted more.

“No,” I said, “You’re going to get fat!”

I didn’t think I had said anything wrong, but the mom-friend next to me shot me dagger eyes.

“Therese, you can’t say that to a young girl,” she said. “She’ll grow up with body-image problems.”

“That’s what my dad always said to me,” I replied.

“And that’s why you and your sisters all have weight issues,” my husband, who overheard our conversation, chimed in.

He had a point. But doesn’t every woman obsess about her weight? How can you have a healthy body image today when every time you pick up a prescription from the drug store, or get some groceries, the tabloids are there, flaunting the stick-thin, gorgeous figures of celebrities?

If my dad hadn’t told me and my sisters to hop on the treadmill whenever we gained a few pounds, popular culture would have. In eighth grade, when I was dancing competitively, I starved myself in order to look like the other skeletons in my ballet class. I pulled a muscle one night jogging, which I did after intense workouts at the studio. Limping into class the next day, my teacher asked what was the matter.

“I pulled it during my run,” I said. She sized me up and then said, “You’re not that fat.” So I lost more weight, until I stopped menstruating and screwed up my metabolism for years to come.

Ms. Anorexia-is-cool is what I’m up against as I try to protect my little girl from the war on the body. I want her innocent love for food to stay. I don’t want her to become Barbie.

—Therese

Copyright © 2006 Catholic News Service, www.CatholicNews.com. Used with permission of CNS.

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