Staggering news reports estimate that approximately 80% of women are not happy with their physical appearances and that girls are now starting to diet as young as 10-years-old. Parents and educators blame the mainstream media, fashion magazines, the model industry and Barbie dolls for the negative body images and low self esteem that plague so many women.
Listed below are some tangible strategies and tips that parents and teachers can immediately incorporate to promote positive body images and high self esteem in girls.
1. It is not enough to tell young women how beautiful, pretty, and cute they are. They are not going to believe what they hear, as much as they will believe what they see, feel, touch, and experience on a daily basis. Make sure that you buy books, dolls, games and movies with girls of different shapes and sizes who are considered to be desirable and beautiful; not the fat supportive friend or the ugly step sister. Compliment other women who deviate from societyís standards of beauty such as Queen Latifah, Jordin Sparks and Sarah Jessica Parker. Girls will indirectly learn from you that it is okay to look different and still be beautiful.
2. Hang pictures of women from various ethnicities, shapes, sizes and occupations in your classroom or family room. Young girls learn to love their own bodies by seeing themselves in the images and pictures of women who are revered by the people they love. If you are a teacher, go out of your way to include toys and pictures of not only people from various ethnic backgrounds, sizes, and shapes but people with disabilities. Even if you have to create your own pictures or drawings, it is essential that these authentic realistic images of women are displayed in a public setting of homes and schools because they will subliminally shape a young girls cognitive schema of beauty that is appreciated and respected by society.
3. Donít ever, ever, ever talk about your own body in a negative way in front of your child. Studies show that in addition to the media, daughters develop their negative body images from their mothers. If you are on a diet, please reframe from giving your daughter the message that it is normal to poke fun at your body by referring to yourself as a fat cow, thunder thighs or other popular derogatory names. Make an effort to eat healthfully; and maybe go for a walk, dance, or jump rope with your daughter but avoid conveying the attitude of trying to lose weight because you donít like yourself.
4. Studies show that girls who seriously participate in sports suffer from eating disorders at a higher rate than girls who do not play sports. The reason for this is that many sports require girls to maintain a certain size such as gymnastics, but other athletic activities as well for aesthetic purposes. Girls are expected to exert a lot of physical energy for training, but eat a low calorie diet. Make sure that girls eat enough healthy foods to sustain the amount energy that will be exerted through physical training. Discuss the double standard for men and women in sports regarding physical attractiveness. Boys are expected to play well and win. Girls are expected to look beautiful, graceful and feminineóplay well and win. Encourage girls to revel in their bodyís strength and endurance and embrace their athletic talent.
5. Please be aware of the myth that African American women do not suffer from poor body image issues at the same rate as white women. White women are more likely to dislike the size and shape of their bodies because mainstream culture promotes thinness and big breasts. However, African American psychologists have found that African American women strongly dislike their hair texture and skin complexion. They typically believe that lighter skin, like Beyonce is more attractive. Generally speaking, in African American culture it is physically attractive for a woman to have big thighs and buttocks, with no strong preference for breasts size. Many Asian women with poor body image issues do not like the shape of their eyes. Many self-esteem and body image programs and books overlook the unique needs of women from different cultures and this is why it is important, if possible to celebrate women from around the world using dolls, picture, movies and books.
6. Find positive role models for young girls who are not entertainers, models, and actors. Have them study the wives of 5 presidents compare and contrast their talents, education, and contributions. Make sure that all students male and female can name at least 10 contributions to science that women discovered.