Ideal body shouldn’t be child’s main focus

By Anita Doberman: Lifestyles Columnist

Three of our five children play soccer. My husband and I believe any sport they practice will help them develop self-esteem, discipline and focus.
But according to my husband, no “sport” includes dance, cheerleading or ice-skating. Not only do I love to watch these three “sports,” I also studied dance for many years.

My husband jokingly says that these three activities are not really “sports,” though he admits that they fall within the dictionary definition of the word “sport.”

According to, “sports” are “a physical and mentally competitive activity carried out with a recreational purpose for competition, for self-enjoyment, to attain excellence, for the development of a skill, or some combination of these.”
Aside from talking about defining sports — my husband agrees that dancers, ice skaters and cheerleaders are top athletes if he wants a peaceful home with a former dancer — my husband thinks that team sports are particularly beneficial for girls, especially because they help them develop self-esteem and we hope steer away from unhealthy obsession with weight loss.

I have to admit that as a teenager studying dance at a rigorous academy in Rome and later at Alvin Ailey Dance School in New York City, I, like many other dancers, was focused on being thin.

The fact that during my teenage years, I had an instructor, a former Russian ballerina, who weighed the dancers at the beginning of each ballet class, didn’t help. She would nod in approval to those who had lost some weight, and move them to one side of the room. She would scold those who hadn’t lost any weight (I was always in this group), and placed us on the opposite side of the room. During our bar exercises, she would often yell out that we couldn’t lift our legs high enough because we were too fat.

I don’t blame this dance instructor for our focus on appearance. She was a contributing factor, but our desire to reach some ideal standard was and is everywhere we turn. It’s not in the art of dancing, ice-skating or any other activity.

We are an image-driven culture, at times extremely focused on fitting into a particular size.

We are bombarded with images that present emaciated and dangerously thin actresses as glamorous. Young girls inevitably look up to these individuals.

Hopefully, sports can be a way to help girls shift the focus from “glamorously skinny” to “skilled players” rather than a way to contribute to our obsessions.

Maybe my girls will discover a passion for ballet or, as my husband hopes, become great soccer players. After all, they have some Italian genes in them.

Regardless of what sport or activity our children will practice, we’ll focus on helping them master a skill, learn to get along with other players, teammates and dancers, and avoid placing enormous value on some ideal body shape.