How images affect young girls and how we can help. “I’m fat.” “I need to lose all this weight.”
“I’m not eating.” As I hear young girls say these things—all while trying to define their identity, their place in the world—I want to jump in and help, in the hopes of changing their perspective and helping them recognize that beauty starts from appreciating yourself. The cover of a magazine frequently defines who we “should” be as women, what we should look like. These are the images we think represent the ideal woman. It can be painstakingly difficult for young girls to navigate their formative years in the world they find themselves in, a world that is bombarded with perfection. Most young girls aren’t models. They aren’t in the spotlight, but they find themselves being judged by others. The constant bombardment of images of thin women, the idea that beauty is achieved through obtaining a very specific body image, and the thoughts that in order to feel good about themselves others ,must approve, are all there. Young girls are prime targets of falling victim to these influences. This begs the question: How do we mentor young girls?
Whether we’re their moms, aunts, friends or otherwise, how do we build their self-esteem to insure that their self-image is not dictated by society, but rather by their own set of standards and goals. Finally, how do we insure that that they focus on a healthy body image in a positive and productive manner?
Be gentle with ourselves
First, we need to stop beating ourselves up. Some girls are more prone to outside influences than others. It’s not your fault as a parent, it’s all personality. So stop asking yourself, “What did I do wrong?” To begin tackling this challenge, consider what you say about yourself. Look inward. Young girls look at the way women they admire talk about themselves. Are you a mom? If so, you are someone your daughter looks up to. Do you struggle with body image? What do you say about yourself? Think carefully about the words that come out of your mouth. Young people learn from those things. The words you say about yourself have a direct impact on how young girls perceive themselves. Change your own self-image if necessary. This is the best way to have a positive impact on the girls and women around you.
Eat healthy, eat often and eat together
The concept of not eating has long been a focus of young girls. I remember being a teenager and deciding not to eat. I wanted to lose weight and look like the girls on the covers of magazines. We assume that as a society, we’ve made progress in understanding nutrition and that young girls don’t think like this anymore. That’s where we’re wrong. The best way to help young girls achieve their goals is to teach and model healthy nutrition. That’s the bottom line. If you don’t do it, they won’t do it. Eating is the best way to maintain a healthy weight, but it requires eating the right foods and at the right times. Use these tips as a guideline:
If you’re hungry, that means you should eat.
No matter who you are, being active fosters happiness. Simply by moving, we create a better self-image. Despite the weight we lose or the level of fitness we achieve, being active gives us a sense of confidence. The endorphins produced by exercising regularly go a long way in improving mood, which in effect assists with our happiness level. Being in a good mood impacts every area of our life. Our young girls need to spend time being active and the best way to insure they do that is to do it ourselves. Encourage those whom you know to find something they enjoy.
Expose the truth
People often think that by not exposing girls to the images and information that’s out there, they are protecting them. No matter how hard we try to limit what our young girls see, they’ll likely find it anyway. The best defense is exposure and discussion. Working in the talent industry, even I have been surprised to see the behind-the-scenes actions of the women we see on magazine covers. The truth is, although they’re beautiful girls, the images on magazine covers, billboards, commercials and TV shows are very different than that of the real people. The real people are like the rest of us. Using Photoshop is great; it can slim waistlines, take away scars and wrinkles, change smiles, make hair fuller, teeth whiter, eyes brighter and make skin look virtually perfect. The reality is no one looks like that in everyday life. I recently sat down with my niece to talk about some of these things. Not only was she surprised to see that these women are just like you and me, but she was also surprised to hear that they also struggle with body image. Even the most beautiful girls sometimes get out of bed and think to themselves, “I’m not good enough. “As mentors to young girls, it’s not only important for us to have a healthy body image, but also for us to be honest about our own insecurities. We shouldn’t be afraid to say, “It’s hard for me sometimes, too. ”By helping young girls find mentors that are “real people,” we help them foster a positive self-image that goes a long way toward healthy development .Involving girls in activities in which they find empowering and honest role models is paramount. Modeling nutritious eating, a healthy self-image and active involvement is critical. Finally, we shouldn’t diminish the idea that young girls have a specific image in mind of who they want to be. We should never respond negatively. This will only pull them away from us. Embrace this first and then help them find healthy ways they can get there.