“What do you love about your body?” I recently asked a group of 15 teenaged girls.
“Take a moment and close your eyes.” I instructed. “Imagine a day that you were really feeling yourself. What about you, on that particular day, makes you smile?”
“My smile! But my teeth are crooked, so I try not to show them that much.”
“My hair! I love to keep it long so it distracts people from my double chin.”
“My eyes! But I really need to do something about these eyebrows…”
“The dress I was wearing was really pretty that day. And it helped me cover up this baby fat.”
As the girls shouted out their responses with something they loved, they consistently countered with something they don’t love- something that needs to be improved or hidden.
I asked them how often they take time to acknowledge their personal beauty. The resounding response: never.
There are so many factors that can be cited that drive this trend.
The media. Celebrity obsession. Rampant photoshopping of models we see displayed on billboards and in magazine. These are sources outside of our immediate control that convey a message to women and young girls that thinness is the golden ticket ― to life, achievement and to love.
As society’s appearance ideals become increasingly unrealistic, the number of young girls diagnosed with eating disorders is also on the rise. A study from the University of Colorado showed that in a 20-year span, the average dieting age of girls dropped from the age of 14 to the age of 8. And, it’s estimated that 1.3 million adolescent girls in the U.S. have been diagnosed with anorexia.
It can seem like a daunting task to slow the thin-obsessed messaging that young girls see (and buy into) everyday.
But, what is possible, is reflecting on and changing the tide of the messages our daughters receive within our own homes.
Has your daughter ever heard you speaking harshly about yourself? Talking about the next diet you’ll be starting to lose the jiggle in your tights, or those love handles that have been driving you bonkers for the past 10 years? Has she overheard you commiserating with your friends about the carbs that haunt your dreams and needing to get your body back?
Unknowingly, the message that she could be receiving is that if you aren’t satisfied with those parts of yourself, how could she be satisfied those parts of herself?
“Self-worth is an echo. It can echo from me to them and then from them to others.”
Common sense media performed a study showing that 5-8 year olds who think their mom is dissatisfied with her body are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own.
The study also shows that body Image concerns start earlier than we think. Preschoolers have been shown to ‘know’ that society judges people based on their looks. 1 in 7 children have engaged in diet behavior by the time they turn 7 years old. And, approximately 90% of girls will have dieted by the time they turn 18.
As women, fixating on our flaws has become a norm. A norm so ingrained in our everyday that more times than not, we aren’t even aware of what we are doing.
As evidenced by the group of I recently spent time with, this also occurs in young girls, too. When I brought to their attention that they were countering what they loved about themselves with what they didn’t love, they collectively agreed that they hadn’t realized what they were doing.
You want to help your daughter see herself as the beauty that she already is, inside and out. You don’t want her to spend her time and energy at war with her body and with food; you know, firsthand, the costs of that war.
Here are some ways to start doing just that:
- Take time to reflect on your personal body story. Do you remember when the war began? How, throughout your adult life, has this war been fueled?
- Become aware of how you speak to yourself and about yourself. Acknowledge when you hone in on your perceived flaws. How does it make you feel when you speak so harshly to and about yourself?
- As you strive to “get your body back” consider the fact that your body has never left you. Acknowledge the way it has carried you throughout your life, has produced life (maybe multiple times!) and how it offers you protection, pleasure and comfort when you need it.
- Make a point to speak to your daughter about what you love about yourself. As she sees your ability to praise and honor all that you offer the world, she will feel more comfortable doing the same. Help her find parts of herself that she loves, and encourage her to speak about them often.
- Pay attention to comments you are making about other people’s appearances. Consider how this can fuel your daughter’s desire to change her body to fit into that ideal.
- Be aware of the magazines, television shows and social media accounts you view in your home. Do they promote self-love and body-acceptance, or do they encourage the thin-ideal that has drained your personal ability to love yourself?
As younger generations spend more time in the online environment, they are exposed to harsh societal values and at even younger ages. Because of this, it’s important to focus on the messaging that is within your control. You are a powerful tool in your daughter’s journey toward loving herself for all that she is. As you begin to openly acknowledge your inner and outer beauty, it will be much easier for her to do the same.
Sarah Herstich is a therapist and coach in Horsham, PA who works with women and teens struggling with anxiety, self-esteem, body image and disordered eating. You can learn more about Sarah and her work at sarahherstichlcsw.com.