January. Diet season. But remember – our daughters are watching and their body image and sense of self develops early.
On a daily basis, girls of all ages wade through a sea of images telling them their main value is their appearance. Even teensy three-year-olds are bombarded with messages about being “as pretty as a princess.” No wonder more 10 year olds than ever before have dieted, given the unrealistic expectations around weight and beauty they see on TV shows, (87% of characters are below average in weight) in magazines and other media.
The good news is, girls are playing sports and are more active, which create a healthy relationship with their bodies. But how, as parents, can we help our daughters to understand that appearance is not as important as it may appear?
- Balance praise. Talk about who your daughter is more than how she looks. Praise achievements. Help her value what she does, rather than what she looks like. Seek opportunities to compliment her efforts, skills and characteristics, from being brave to being a good friend. Balance praise around looking good with who she is as a person.
- Expose the myths. From age-9 upwards point out that pictures have been altered to make models look flawless and impossibly thin and why so. Talk about unrealistic media representations of beauty AND that limited definitions of what it means to be a girl or boy are only used to sell more stuff.
- Focus on function: ie. what bodies can do rather than what they look like. Focus on how our bodies are not objects or shapes, but are strong self-healing machines, full of vitality.
- Look for alternative media. Avoid TV, movies, and magazines that promote stereotypes and outdated gender roles. Seek out unconventional role models and different body types and discuss why you find them beautiful (e.g, they're kind or wise). Expose her to women famous for their achievements rather than their appearance.
- Ask her what she likes about herself and list what you like about her too. Your acceptance and respect can help build self-esteem and resilience.
- Consider how you talk about your own body. Girls take to heart what their mothers say about their own/other people’s bodies. They notice if we make derogatory comments about our own appearance. So, rather than berate our bodies, let’s celebrate them and, if we want to change them, focus on ‘healthy changes’ rather than ‘diets.’
This advert from Dove was filmed 8 years ago and yet things have got worse rather than better since then. The message? Talk to your daughters before the beauty industry does. By taking some of the steps above, we can help our daughters realise that appearance matters less than it appears.
This post first featured in The Daily Echo in Cheryl Rickman's Monthly Lifestyle Column: Choice Words