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08
2017

7 Ways to Help Girls Thrive in a World Still Obsessed With Thinness

The following is an article by Dr Robyn Silverman, and this is so needed in todays society.  It gives some great advice that we all can use with our daughters or preteen and teen age girls that we mentor, teach or associate with.

 

7 Ways to Help Girls Thrive in a World Still Obsessed With Thinness

Give her the tools she needs to cut through the noise and develop a positive self-image.

By Robyn Silverman, Contributor | Aug. 8, 2017, at 6:00 p.m.

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In 1996, my freshman year of college, one of my friends asked me if my thighs touched. This gifted young woman, with deep brown eyes, a sharp brain and kind heart, worried that her thigh proximity would deem her unlovable.

The question, and all that it symbolized, stuck with me. I’ve spoken to countless other friends along the way who felt similarly that, despite their strengths, appearance trumped or overshadowed other attributes.

In graduate school, I began studying body image, writing articles for major journals and ultimately, writing a 167-page dissertation on the topic. As it turns out, this has been a problem for women for decades, and not just for girls and women who are considered “medically overweight.” In fact, research suggests that up to 96 percent of girls and women want to change something about their bodies.

I completed my book, “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It,” based on my dissertation work, in 2009, with my newborn baby girl, Tallie, strapped to my chest. The book was published in 2010. Today, girls are still fielding the same questions as they did when I was young. What’s different is that the questions are coming sooner. The girls are getting younger.

Recently, I received a question in my message inbox on Facebook from a mother who wrote, “My daughter asked me today, ‘Why you have to be skinny to be a girl. Why do boys only like skinny girls?’ When I asked her, ‘Where did you get this from?’ she answered, ‘All the cool girls on TV or in movies are super skinny.’ It makes my heart sink. What can I do?” I have received this question, in many iterations, from parents and educators in the United States and abroad over the last 15 years. What struck me particularly this time was that her daughter was the exact same age as mine.

So this article is in honor of my daughter, Tallie, as well as all other daughters here and far, who may ever try to calculate their worth by assessing the number on the scale, marked in the back of their jeans or printed in the magazines they read.

How can we help our girls thrive? Here’s what I would advise:

Shift the conversation. This entails breaking some time-honored habits. While it’s fine to compliment kids on how they look some of the time, it has become our go-to conversation starter. “Aren’t you adorable!” “I love your hair, your dress, your eyes!” I’ve even heard, “I wish I had a flat tummy like yours!” when on the beach with another family. Instead, ask a girl what great book she’s reading or what she likes to do in her spare time. Compliment her courage, her insights, her storytelling ability or her character. She needs to receive the message that she is more than just her appearance.

Highlight her strengths: Children learn quickly what is valued in this world, whether you speak about it or not. And while media or even the next-door neighbors may be highlighting thinness, your voice has power. What’s really neat about your daughter? What do you think is remarkable about her friends, her teachers or her grandmother? Instead of talking about who has the longest legs, purposefully discuss how you admire someone’s confidence, work ethic, warmth or way with animals.

Get both male and female voices involved. While body image is often described as a “women’s issue,” everyone needs to get involved. Both boys and girls feel societal pressure. Yes, it can be more pronounced or pervasive for girls, but mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles can make an impact. How a mother figure talks about herself and others can speak volumes to girls about how they should see themselves. How a father figure talks about and treats girls and women can help to shape a girl’s perception of how she believes boys and men see her and what they value in a girl. This won’t happen by osmosis. Talk about your values.

Ensure that your home is a safe haven. While parents may feel like appearance is discussed in the home on a daily basis, holidays, visits from guests and even meals with family members can flood the kitchen with fat talk. All of a sudden dinner discussion may go from, “How was your day” to “I shouldn’t eat that,” “Have you lost weight?” or “My thighs are so fat,” and “I’ve been meaning to try this new diet.” Politely ask guests to leave the fat talk at the door (they are welcome to pick it up on the way out), even if it’s your mother-in-law. Your home should be a “fat talk free zone.”

Make sure she is media literate. Shows, movies, magazines and advertisements are filled with actors and models who are paid to look the way they do. Words, images and people are carefully crafted to get intended audiences to laugh or cry, search and click, bite and buy. Teach your daughter – and sons – the tricks used to play with their emotions and get them to question if they are good enough as they are. What do they notice? Question whether what they are seeing demonstrates how diverse the world is. Do people with specific body types play certain kinds of characters? Kids don’t like to be duped or played – so make them media savvy. And don’t forget that there are some celebrities who are speaking out about body “flaws” and showing off their unfiltered, unretouched bodies. Share those articles and posts with your kids!

Debunk the myths. Research shows that somewhere along the line, the word “fat” has become associated with negative words such us ugly, lazy, blameworthy, unpopular and bad, while the word “thin” is connected with positive words like beautiful, intelligent, disciplined and good. So “fat” and “thin” are no longer simply assessments of size or weight, but rather of character. Is it really true that body type can tell you about someone’s character? Talk to your daughter about the many people in her life and how you know these myths are untrue and hurtful.

Talk about what a body can do. We focus so much on what a body looks like that we often forgo talking about the amazing things our body can do. Perhaps your body gives you the ability to do yoga or run. Talk about how your bodies help you to engage in your favorite activities and how grateful you are to have the amazing body you do. What does her body allow her to do?

Be ready. Body image talks don’t often come when you are ready and waiting. My daughter, at age 6, turned to me when we were in the bathroom one day and asked, “Do you think I’m beautiful?” I knew this was an important moment, so I took a breath and spoke from the heart:

Me: “Yes. When people are kind and full of character, it comes out their eyes and in what they do and it makes them beautiful. And people who are nasty all the time, even if they are pretty on the outside, are not beautiful.”
Tallie: “It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside. It’s the inside that counts.”
Me: “That’s right, Baby. People focus too much on what they look like on the outside and not enough on who they are on the inside.”
Tallie: “Yeah. Because it’s what’s in your heart that makes you beautiful.”
Me: “Yes, my Sweet. That’s exactly right. Are you learning about being beautiful on the inside at school?”
Tallie: “No, Mommy. I learned it from you.”

They are listening. Even when you think they are tuning you out, they hear you. Make your voice the one that rings in their ears and becomes their inner mental script. And please – even if you are reading this and thinking back to recent conversations where you said something or did something that sent a negative message about appearance – let me assure you that there are plenty more moments to try again. In fact, you can try again today. Parenting is the ultimate do-over. Thank goodness. We all make mistakes, and we all have the opportunity to do better. I, for one, am banking on that.

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