For generations, American girls have been exposed to unrealistic and even unhealthy images of painfully thin women, and subtly encouraged to fit within a very narrow definition of beauty. While it’s certainly nothing new, this pressure has risen to an unprecedented level in today’s technologically advanced, celebrity-saturated world. Kids spend more time in front of the television than their parents did at the same age, and are constantly confronted with marketing images online and on every billboard that seem to celebrate only one type of body, encouraging them to be thin at all costs. While boys and girls alike both feel the pressure to conform to these standards, the pressure tends to be greater for young girls. Parents today are forced to not only help their daughters stay safe from online predators and bullies, but also the pop culture complex that markets thin bodies and places an emphasis on beauty as currency. While it can seem overwhelming, there are ways that parents can combat the stress forced upon their daughters by the media and societal pressure.
Compliment More Than Her Appearance
Every little girl loves to hear that she’s pretty, especially when she’s all dressed up for a special occasion or has changed her appearance. When that’s the only thing she hears, however, a young girl learns to believe that her only value lies within her appearance. Make sure that you’re emphasizing your daughter’s many accomplishments and praising her efforts too, not just complimenting the way she looks. It’s also important to think carefully about the way that you attempt to impart lessons about healthy eating, fitness and staying in shape. Rather than encouraging your daughter to go on diets that may not be healthy in order to lose weight or forbidding the occasional sweet treat because it’s fattening, talk about the importance of fueling her body the right way in order to keep it in good shape. Don’t emphasize weight; instead, talk about health and strength.
Don’t Treat Eating Disorders as Taboo Subjects
Some parents feel that discussing subjects like anorexia, bulimia or other problematic attitudes about food only serve to give their daughters ideas. As a result, they avoid talking about these important topics and essentially leave their daughters to fend for themselves. In a technologically-advanced age where the internet is readily available and awash in websites that actually champion eating disorders, it’s important that parents not shy away from these difficult subjects. Talk to your daughter about eating disorders, why some people turn to such lifestyles and the real-life consequences of damaging bodies and minds in such a manner.
Think About the Behavior You’re Modeling
Even at the tween or teen stage when your daughter seems to think that you’re out of touch, she’s still watching you for cues and her world view is still being shaped by the behavior she observes from you. If she’s regularly exposed to your own negative body image and self-critical comments, she will learn that those attitudes are normal and healthy. Think about what you’re saying and the example you’re setting, because your attitudes will affect those of your daughter as she gets older.
Take Advantage of Everyday Talking Points
When you’re watching television with your daughter or looking at a magazine together, take the opportunity to talk about unrealistic images of beauty, the way that photographs are routinely doctored in order to make models seem perfect and just how unattainable these bodies are in the real world. Emphasize the importance of a healthy, strong and functioning body over a thin, waifish one. Make sure that your daughter understands that her body is the vehicle that allows her to accomplish the things she wants to accomplish and is capable of amazing physical feats, but that the way it looks is not what defines her.
If you do suspect that your daughter is acquiring unhealthy habits or attitudes towards food, it’s wise to consult her pediatrician or the family doctor in order to come up with an effective plan of action. Eating disorders, depression and self-esteem issues can all be a slippery slope that can be difficult to return from, so don’t put off these necessary conversations.