005. What Kung Fu Panda Can Teach You About Weight

005. What Kung Fu Panda Can Teach You About Weight

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Hello again! This week we will review the movie Kung Fu Panda and talk about weight, health, exercise, and body image development in children. Parents are the best teachers for helping kids learn about how to take care of their bodies. In the movie, Kung Fu Panda, we learn how to accept that different body shapes and sizes are great and nothing to feel ashamed of! And somewhere along the way I started talking about Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. Enjoy!

Things we talk about:

0:38 Development of Childhood Obesity 

3:45 Movie Summary

5:03 The Problem with Social Media

7:48 Non-judgemental Acceptance


I know you’re a very busy person and you haven’t got all day, so I’m here to help you, stressed-out parents, with upset kids, access a clearer understanding of how to calm down your children. I’m your host, Dr. Tsunami Turner. Today we are talking about a topic near and dear to my heart, body image development in children. I did my thesis and dissertation on this topic and I am excited to talk about how you can help your child develop a positive image of themselves. During the discussion I will take some key examples from the movie Kung Fu Panda.

Intro Music

Just to give you some background. When I was in my master’s program I was walking to class when across the street I saw a child eating a large bag of Cheetos. Mind you it was like 7 o’clock in the morning and this child was having Enriched Corn Meal, Vegetable Oil, Cheese Seasoning, Canola Oil, Maltodextrin, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Salt, Whey Protein Concentrate, Monosodium Glutamate, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Artificial Color [Yellow 6]), and Salt for breakfast. I grew up with my dad insisting that we eat oatmeal every morning because it “sticks to your ribs.” I was amazed at how this kid left the house with some Cheetos for breakfast, but also quite saddened. So I started to research it. I found out that a lot of families will purchase “junk foods” because they are cheaper. Well, simple maths state differently. You can buy oatmeal at 9.9 cents per ounce whereas Cheetos are 29.4 cents per ounce! So it seemed like there was a perception in families that processed foods are cheaper. I looked deeper and found out that in low income households it is more likely that both parents work or it is a single parent home. Then the reason for choosing Cheetos then becomes convenience as parents don’t have time or energy to cook. I can empathize with that, but even then meal planning, freezer meals, and proper time management can solve this problem. The last most common reason for choosing junk food is the one that upset me the most. Families don’t have access in their neighborhoods to fresh foods. They would have to travel a significant distance using public transportation and bringing all the kids just to get to an apple. That blows my mind!

Sorry, not sorry for the tangent, but come on really? Lack of access to adequate food and sedentary lifestyles have led to a huge increase in obesity in children over the years. COVID increased it more because what activity children were getting before became non-existent and behavioral problems increased as a result of these kids being cooped up with nowhere to go. I’m sure you’ve probably been struggling with your weight during the pandemic. I certainly have.

In the movie Kung Fu Panda we are introduced to Po who has a dream to be a kung fu warrior, but his size and shape are considered a disadvantage right from the start.

This movie has been out for YEARS now, but if you haven’t seen it then know that there will be spoilers, so please grab some popcorn and go and watch the movie first.

Okay you back? Let’s get into it. Po is a clumsy, round, soft panda who lives at the foot of the mountains with his father, Mr. Ping. Po, despite what others think of him, has a great interest in learning to fight and admires Tigress, Mantis, Monkey, Crane, and Viper, the local warriors who live at the top of the mountain. Po finally gets his chance to see the Furious Five in action when Oogway is choosing the next Dragon Warrior. Despite his difficulty making it up the stairs with the food cart, Po manages to bungle his way into the arena after the doors have closed in just enough time to be chosen as the dragon warrior. Immediately he feels that there must be a mistake as does basically everyone else except for Oogway. And the Furious Five, especially Tigress, don’t hide the fact that they find Po socially awkward and unqualified. Master Shifu is determined to do everything in his power to get Po to quit, but despite the adversity Po’s strength of mind keeps him going and he tries his best to fit in and be like the Furious Five.

This brings me to my two main points. #1 we should never try to be or look like anyone else and #2 our mindset in adversity is a superpower. As to the first point, social media breeds dissatisfaction with what we have. As some of you can relate, back in the days before the tech boom our only source of FOMO came from the commercials we would see in between our Saturday morning cartoons. Now imagine 10xing that and that is the level of advertising and messaging that our kids are exposed to on the daily. They are told by companies, influencers, even friends that they should want more, more, more, that they should be better, better, better, but that simply isn’t true. Everyone, even identical twins, have differences in body shape, size, and weight.

There was a movement a while back around body positivity, but I feel that some of those messages ended up being skewed to the opposite side of the spectrum. While one influencer is photoshopping themselves into the perfect hourglass shape on the other side another influencer is overeating, never engaging in any movement, and developing type 2 diabetes. As will everything in life we have to find a balance. Something in the middle of these two extremes. Something healthy. But what healthy looks like for each person is individual and really depends on genetics and environmental factors. Po is a panda. He will never have 6 pack abs. It’s just not in his genes or his lifestyle, but that does not mean that he is unhealthy or that he is weak. Quite the opposite. Once Master Shifu stops trying to train Po like everyone else he discover’s Po is flexible and strong and powerful and can do everything that the Furious Five can do. He is a ninja. He’s not fat and lazy or any of those other things that he was being judged for. His body just moves and responds to different things differently.

To manage our weight there are some universal things that we need to keep in mind. Like Po the Panda has to eat bamboo, or noodles and dumplings in this case, human beings need to eat fruits, vegetables, and proteins. But how much of each of these things we need is dependent upon our genes and lifestyle. If for example you are the Rock, you would need a substantial amount of protein to keep up with his incredibly active lifestyle. The Rock doesn’t have that muscular structure from only eating broccoli. And if you are Samoan, genetics testing has found that there is a gene that affects metabolism and fat storage leading to a propensity to obesity. The Rock was always going to be a big guy, but his lifestyle habits shaped his body into what you see today.

In my research the one constant, regardless of what variable I changed, was that in elementary school aged children the most impactful person on their development of body image was their parents. Children naturally imitate what they see their parents doing. It’s cute, sometimes, but it’s also a coping mechanism to help children survive. Babies look to their mothers to know if something is safe or not. When it comes to body image, children are listening to messages that their parents say about their bodies and the bodies of other people. Notice that while Po is being put down by everyone else, his father never says anything about Po’s body being an obstacle to his success. In fact even though Mr. Ping’s expectations for Po to take over the noodle shop are shattered, he remains proud of Po for searching for what makes him happy and fighting for it.

This brings me to my second point which is that mindset is a superpower. Po recognizes and acknowledges that he does not look like your typical warrior but when he is about to give up, it’s not because he doesn’t believe in his own abilities, it’s because he is afraid that Tai Lung is stronger than him. Po’s healthy outlook is because he never makes judgements about himself. He learned that from the love and modeling of acceptance from his father. Imagine how differently this show would have been if Po’s father made body shaming and judgemental comments like Master Shifu, Po probably would have quit after the first day. In fact, he probably wouldn’t have even tried to walk up the stairs to see who the next Dragon warrior would be.

Because Po believed in himself despite what others felt were disadvantages he was able to accomplish something that no one else could. Master Shifu taught Po that you need to use your opponent’s weaknesses and strengths against him until he fails or quits and Po was able to do exactly that. Because Tai Lung had never fought against someone who moved like Po he was at a disadvantage. Now let’s look at Tai Lung’s storyline for a minute. Tai Lung was raised by Master Shifu but there was a distinct difference in his mindset. He believed himself to be the best and felt the need to be the best to please Master Shifu But then Tai Lung turned mean. He became a bully and had the mindset that instead of embracing teamwork and admitting flaws he had to trample anyone who was in his way. Master Shifu inadvertently taught Tai Lung to believe that he was not good enough and would never be good enough unless he obtained the scroll.

So what does that mean for you as a parent? First of all pay attention to how you’re talking about your perceptions of body image. We are often our own worst critic and this can be the case especially with our external appearance. As Po learned when he opened the scroll, the most powerful warrior was the one who understood that to become great you must believe in yourself. You may not feel that you have control over your child’s overall weight development, but you can encourage them to be active and have healthy foods available for them to choose over the more processed items.

I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Remember to subscribe so that you don’t miss the next one.

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