I receive dozens of letters each week from parents. Unfortunately I can’t get to answering them all, but do try in this blog or in my Parenting Secrets blog I write for iVillage. This query from a mom about the media impact on our daughter’s body image concerned me so, I wanted to include my response here.
QUESTION I’m concerned about all of the idealized images of women in the media and I’m wondering how best to raise my daughter with a healthy body image and a strong sense of self esteem before she hits her tween years… Is there any practical advice you can provide or a resource available to help encourage daughters to avoid being influenced by idealized celebrity and model images, especially considering how much more they’re being inundated by them these days? Thanks!
ANSWER I too am so concerned about our girls’ quest for a picture perfect look. With today’s epidemic of “celebrititis” their quest is escalating to the “dangerously unhealthy” level. Size 0. Pencil-thin models. Celebrity after celebrity flaunted for being so “perfect” because they are so “small.” And it is doing a number on their emotional as well as physical health. We are seeing a sharp increase in eating disorders, depression, stress and unhealthy perfectionism—and at YOUNGER AND YOUNGER AGE.
This statistic should shake us up: 80% of ten-year-old girls say they’re afraid of being fat. Most said they felt better about themselves when they are dieting. Eating disorders are now being diagnosed in girls in the FIRST GRADE. And our sons are being diagnosed with eating disorders as well.
So here are six tips to turn this troubling trend around:
1. Downsize appearance. The key is to make sure you don’t just talk it, but walk it as well. Talk up healthier female role models, where you emphasize their hearts and minds and not their dress size. They can be out there in celebrityville, but they also can be the woman next door.
2. Praise what you can’t see. Praise does impact self-esteem; if issued correctly. New studies from Stanford University tell us the biggest mistakes we make are lavishing it when it’s unearned and not nurturing those “inside-out” qualities. So deliberately look for virtues, inner strengths, talents and glorious qualities your daughter possesses (her kindness, stamina, patience, artistic sense or creative outlook) and keep emphasizing those same traits. In fact, you’re better to emphasize the same ONE- no more than TWO qualities- for about three weeks. New self-images take a minimum of 21 days to start, so keep repeating the same inside qualities.
3. Curb your tongue. There’s a number of studies that show a direct correlation to what we say and the rise of eating disorders (or the “quest to be super-thin”). Watch your words. “She looks soooooo thin!” “I wonder what diet she’s on?” “She must be a size 2!!!!” Our kids are listening. (And also watching your actions!)
4. Put away the scale. New research finds that when we pull out those scales and encourage our kids to weigh themselves it backfires big time. Don’t emphasize calories and WEIGHT (or dress size). Instead talk about healthier foods and good choices. Emphasize healthy exercise and balanced lifestyles (Hmmm…we all should work on that one).
5. Watch out for negative body image thinking. That’s a mouth full but it’s crucial for parents to understand. New research on 12 to 15-year-olds found that how girls view their body (those views are based on all those images of celebrities as well as the words they hear and see) develops into negative thinking habits. If those negative thoughts are not countered or turned around they will dramatically impact our daughters’ self-esteem and increase their potential for developing eating disorders. The trick is to change the negative thoughts of our girls about their body image.
6. Get a copy of Picture Perfect. You asked for a good resource to help your raise your daughter from the inside out. The best one I’ve seen is called Picture Perfect: What You Need to Feel Better About Your Body by Jill Zimmerman Rutledge. What’s great about this book is that it helps girls learn to catch their negative thoughts and develop healthier images about their body. It also helps the girl develop her own “Special Statement” to counter the negative thoughts and stories of girls who struggle with poor body image issues, worry about their appearance or wealth. And it’s written so your daughter can read it herself!
All the best!