Today we’re asking Dr. Charlotte Markey some questions so you can get to know her better as she’ll be contributing to Teen Strong in upcoming articles. Charlotte Markey is the author of The Body Image Book for Girls, which was published this past September. We’re excited to learn more about Dr. Markey and her book!
Q: Can you give us some background on your education and how and why you decided to become an author and psychologist?
When I started college, I was pretty sure that I wanted to be a teacher, but my psychology classes really captured my interest and I changed my major to psychology. I started to do research on eating attitudes as an undergraduate and I was hooked! I went on to earn my PhD in developmental and health psychology. I was always interested in tween and teen’s health, especially their eating behaviors and body image.
Q: What inspired you to write The Body Image Book for Girls?
After studying eating behaviors and body image for over 20 years and increasingly writing for public audiences (books and blogs aimed at adults), I really wanted to bring evidence-based information to a younger audience. As my own kids approached their teens, I realized how many things I wanted to say to them and that they needed to know about these topics. Really, I wanted all teenagers to have access to scientific information about eating, body image, and health in general.
Q: We understand that The Body Image Book for Boys is coming soon. Can you tell us about that book?
This book is similar to the book for girls but also different in important ways. The message that boys get about their bodies is that they need to be slender but also muscular. These are nearly incompatible, impossible goals for most boys and men. Boys and men are also silenced and discouraged from talking about their feelings and psychological health issues. I hope that this book helps boys to realize that it is okay for them to have concerns about their bodies and appearance and to talk about important psychological and emotional issues. Boys who are comfortable with themselves – body and mind – will grow up to become more psychologically healthy men.
Q: What are some ways that young girls can focus on appreciating their bodies?
It’s critical that girls understand that how their body looks is not most important. How their body works and the fact that it allows them to experience their lives is more important. Girls will appreciate their bodies when they focus on what their bodies allow them to do and not what others tell them they should look like.
Q: What do you tell teens who might say they want to lose weight?
Dieting is never the answer! Nearly everyone has some habits that aren’t the healthiest. Maybe it’s drinking too much soda, not eating enough fruit, or watching too much YouTube and not getting outside to exercise regularly. Changing some of these habits can be good for our health. But, drastic or trendy approaches to eating and exercise are unlikely to be evidence-based and are usually really hard to stick with. They can also be psychologically damaging and lead to disordered eating.
Q: What can a teenager do to stay healthy and exercise if they’re not really interested in eating well or exercising? How can teens make it more fun to be healthy?
I like to say that we are all works in progress. We don’t have to commit to being healthy and active tomorrow. We can ease into changes we think are important for our well-being. Exercise is always more fun when done with other people we like or who share our interests. Eating nutritious food can be fun when we pick out new things we want to try.
Q: What is the definition of ‘diet culture?’
Diet culture is a subculture we all interact with every day that focuses on the importance of thinness and eating “healthy”/“good” food. The message we all get from diet culture is that we need to be thin and there is something wrong with us if we aren’t. None of this is true!
Q: What advice do you have for girls who are dealing with peer pressure or being bullied for their appearance?
Confidence is the enemy of bullying. This is not easy and you may feel you need to “fake it” in terms of acting confident, but people will stop bullying when they see that it doesn’t affect you. Try to find a group of friends – even if it’s just one or two people – who accept you as you are. We can all face the bullies of the world much more easily when we know some people have our backs.
Q: If a young girl went up to her mom and said, “Mom, I’m fat,” how do you suggest she respond?
“Fat” is often viewed as the biggest insult. Why? We all have bodies that we need to live in for the rest of our lives. Our bodies naturally come in different sizes and shapes. We need to take care of our bodies, which means nourishing them and keeping them active. Moms can help their daughters appreciate that just because most of us don’t look like supermodels or influencers, this does not mean that there is anything wrong with us.
Q: How do you model healthy eating at home for you and your family?
It may seem strange, but I try not to overemphasize food in my home. I want my family to enjoy food and not to worry about what they eat. We have a lot of options – mostly healthy, but also plenty of treats – and my kids are teenagers, so they select a lot of what they eat on their own. My husband and I are vegetarians and we eat a lot of vegetables, so I think we model pretty healthy eating, but we like treats, too!
Thank you Charlotte for these insightful answers to our questions. We are excited to learn more about you and look forward to your expert thoughts on body image and self-esteem! Charlotte will be joining the Teen Strong family in January with an article about appreciating our bodies so stay tuned for that.
Stephanie Elliot is the author of the young adult novel, Sad Perfect, which was inspired by her daughter’s journey with ARFID. She writes about parenting, mental health issues, family, relationships, books and more. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her family.