I recently came across a blog post where a mother talked about her precious 8 year old daughter and the little girl's feelings about becoming fat. Although I know this is happening every day to little girls all over America, as well as other parts of the world, it still breaks my heart. I read about it and hear about it and immediately I wish I could throw on my cape, fly around and save these innocent little girls of these feelings. Not to mention this week we are introduced to 80 calorie snack packs that are made by Disney, marketed to little girls. And we wonder why little girls as young as 8 are worried about their weight and even worse, being diagnosed with eating disorders?
You may have missed it, but over a year ago I wrote a post where I mentioned I found my diary from when I was a little girl. As I read through the pages I was shocked to find an entry from 1987, making me 11 years old. Taking a look back in time, reading my bubbly handwriting I saw my own body image issues beginning:
In 1987 we didn't have nearly the media bombardment we do now. We didn't have hundreds of channels to choose from, no internet, I think we barely had VCR's then to watch movies. Kim Kardashian wasn't there asking us “How hot can you be?” while trying to sell her diet bullshit. In the 80's Jazzercise and aerobics were all the rage, but we didn't have reality shows on every channel telling us to “Dance Our Ass Off” or “The Biggest Loser” basically making a mockery of fat people and giving children the bottom line message that no-way, no-how, you don't want to grow up to be fat. The messages kids are being fed, especially to girls is: Don't grow up to be fat. Do anything you can to be thin. Fat= Bad. Skinny=Good. To be thin is to be loved, and on and on and on.
It's hard for little girls now. Really, really hard. And we, as parents have an enourmous responsibility to teach our daughters to love themselves from their hearts, not their weight. And granted, my daughter is still a baby and I don't have lots of experience under my belt with her, but I'll give you 7 things I think need to be done in order start raising a daughter who can obtain a healthy body image:
- Do not have a scale in your house. Wait, let me start over. DO NOT HAVE A SCALE IN YOUR HOUSE! There is no reason you need to be weighing yourself. Especially in front of your children, ESPECIALLY in front of your daughters. If you have a legitimate reason you need to be weighing yourself, please leave it in the comments, I'd love to know. By not having a scale in your house you send the message that monitoring your weight is not important in your home.
- Do not make snide remarks about your body parts. By doing this, you are sending a crystal clear message that you don't like the way you look. And why would an impressionable little girl who grows up in your image like the way she looks if you don't like your own looks? She's listening. She's digesting all the remarks in that smart mind you gave her.
- Do not make snide remarks about other people's weight. Think about when you talk to your girlfriends and y'all are sitting around having a glass of wine and somebody says, “Did you see how fat Mary is? She must have gained 20 pounds this year”. If your daughter is listening and even if she is 4 years old, SHE'S LISTENING. Like #2, little remarks like that add up in her mind and she stores them away for the future.
- Have open conversations with her starting at a young age about what you see on TV, magazines and all media. Start as early as possible. Invite her to think critically about what she sees every day. Not only will this make her feel comfortable talking to you about other things, she'll be more apt to come to you about body image issues that may come up when she's a teenager.
- Be transparent with her about your own issues. I've yet to meet a woman who hasn't somewhere, sometime in her life had body image issues. Once your daughter is a little bit older, tell her how you felt when you were her age. Talk to her about 7th grade. She'll see you as human and not just a mom.
- Let her explore her own style. You may want her to dress a certain way, maybe just like you or what you think looks best on her, but let her explore it on her own terms, within reason. My 3 year old son loves painted toenails and I absolutely let him have them painted when he asks for them. It makes him happy, and I have bigger fish to fry.
- Tell her she's more than just beautiful. Tell your daughter she is smart. Tell her she is special for all the reasons you as a parent know that she is special. Yes, she is beautiful and has the face of an angel, but more than that, take the time every day to tell her how wonderful she is and the uniqueness that is her. Tell her she was made specially for this earth and the only things she should wonder about are things she is truly interested in. Like how many times she can jump rope in a row, or how fast she can run, how high she can count up to, how many things she wants to be when she grows up and none of those, NONE OF THOSE things she wonders need to be if she is thin or fat.
These are our daughters. Little girls. Put down the phone, turn off the computer and the TV and pay attention. The media, the beauty industry and their goal of setting up our daughters to hate their bodies is working on many, many little girls. Don't. Let. Them. Win.
Times have changed since you and I were little. And not for the better. We are bigger, better and smarter than they are. All you need to start with is a little conversation. Your daughter's future depends on it.