It’s back-to-school shopping time, which means things could be said in the dressing room that will make your blood run cold. No, not expletive language, but your daughter harshly criticizing her body. Witnessing a child unleash physical self-deprecation can break a parent’s heart. After all, it’s no secret consistently putting down one’s appearance harms social, physical, and emotional growth.
So what’s a caregiver to do in a world filled to the brim with doctored “perfect” images? For starters, understand that self-esteem and body image are two separate things. Self-esteem is how we think and feel about ourselves as a total package. Body image is how we think and feel about our body; it’s just one piece of self-esteem.
Here are five steps you can take to help girls accept and love their physical appearance:
Know that how you personally view your body plays a role in how children see theirs.
Do you stand in front of the mirror and nitpick everything you don’t like about your body? Your child will think she should do the same…that this behavior is part of growing up. Do not body bash yourself or make negative statements about the weight and body size of others (including celebrities). In addition, tell your daughter what you love most about your body. Express gratitude for the things it makes possible.
Have a blunt talk about media’s depiction of girls and women, how advertising works, and the truth about altered images.
A “perfect” body does not exist. Neither do magical products to make someone in real life look like the doctored images seen online, in print, and on screen. Therefore, girls need to realize impossible beauty standards surround them and that images in advertising are there to sell products. Awareness that images, videos, and social media posts have the potential to make them feel bad about their bodies is invaluable. MediaSmarts, an organization for digital and media literacy, has put together this helpful tip sheet on how to talk with young children, tweens, and teens about media and body image.
Focus weight loss on health, not appearance.
If you want to lose weight for health reasons, pay attention to the language you’re using with your family. Don’t beat yourself up for having a scoop of ice cream. Instead, talk about the benefits of nutritious eating, that food is to be enjoyed, and how participating in some form of physical activity every day is important for overall health. Additionally, encourage kids to be part of making meals in the kitchen and openly discuss what it means to take care of one’s body.
Compliment your girl more on her efforts and personal values and less on her looks.
Praising a girl on her physical looks at the start of conversations signals appearance is valued over other qualities. This doesn’t mean you can never compliment physical appearance, but consider other ways to open or steer conversations. Ask your girl open-ended questions about her activities or what she’s learning at school. Comment on a favorite toy, compliment the way she’s handling a situation or the effort she’s put into a project. Girls needs to know their loved ones value the many different qualities that make them special and unique.
Find positive, diverse role models and share their stories with your girl.
The National Eating Disorder Association has a post on how a speech by P!nk, the musician, emphasizes the importance of accepting yourself and embracing your own beauty. On a car ride P!nk’s daughter commented she was “the ugliest girl she knows,” because a classmate had told her she “looked like a boy with long hair.” In response P!nk made a PowerPoint presentation of many androgynous artists who had successful careers, despite their adversaries. She showed this to her daughter and also talked openly about how she personally handles body criticism from others. Many public figures are promoting body positive messages. Seek them out and watch P!nk’s entire speech here.
Having a healthy body image is extremely important for your child’s development. While the past 20 years have seen progress regarding body acceptance and loving one’s body, it’s up to parent and caregivers to keep the momentum going.
For a project to do with your girl, check out the What I Like About Me activity on the Girls That Create website.
Top image by Min An from Pexels.