Anorexia. Bulimia. Cutting. Depression. All are experiences that are becoming more and more common in young girls. Although women have gained certain freedoms in the past century, we have become enslaved by insecurities that keep us consciously or unconsciously comparing ourselves to airbrushed and false images. It is not uncommon to hear elementary-aged girls call themselves “fat” and attempt dieting. More girls are turning to self-injury as a means to cope.
“7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way including their looks, performance in school, and relationship with friends and family members.”
Before you say “not my daughter” consider this statistic: “7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way including their looks, performance in school, and relationship with friends and family members.” (Dove Research Council)
Nationwide, nearly 50% of young girls participate in harmful behaviors such as self-injury, food restriction and/or binging as a result of a low self worth or self image (Dove Research Council). We are losing the battle at empowering females. How do we turn the tides?
1. Don’t focus on external traits. When talking to a girl, stop placing emphasis on her looks and the way she dresses. (Heard of the “thigh gap”? Your daughter probably has. Learn about this popular trend from, “What Your Teen Knows That You Need To Know: The Thigh Gap.“)
2. Do compliment her on her character. Is she generous? Adventurous? A leader?
3. Encourage her to develop her strength of character, rather than manipulate others through her good looks. Don’t let her physical beauty or “cuteness” be a reason for her to get away with being immoral. We don’t want to encourage girls to get out of traffic tickets by flirting with police officers. (Need some ideas on developing strength of character? Read “Three Unconventional Ways You Can Boost Your Confidence Today.”)
4. Challenge her to think for herself. Ask her specific questions about what she is learning. Show her you are interested in what she is learning.
5. Let her get dirty. How is a girl supposed to learn how physically strong she can be if she’s not allowed to climb a tree or play outside? Too often women focus physical activity or exercise on being “skinny” and miss out on the benefits and pride of being strong.
6. Don’t use words like “pretty” or “cute” to describe her artwork or design choices she has made. Instead tell her how you like her use of color in her picture or the composition. Engage her in a discussion about her artwork.
7. Teach her about women and girls who have made a difference in the world. Just think, girls are bombarded with TV and internet images of half-naked models much more than they learn about women who use their minds. Which do you want your daughter to be? A woman who is able to use her mind to contribute to society, or a woman trapped in the vicious snares of constantly comparing her looks to other women? Examples include: Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa, Malala Yousafzai. (Malala is a Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for believing that girls should get an education. She survived the shooting and has traveled the world speaking out about the importance of girls getting an education.) Look at strong women from the Bible: Mary a teenaged girl chosen by God to carry Jesus; Deborah, a prophetess, judge, and woman warrior; Abigail, a woman who used her mind and diplomacy to prevent bloodshed; Esther, a woman who was able to save her people by becoming queen.
8. Don’t complain about your body or appearance in front of your daughter. Ever. Even if she is a toddler. Or an adult. What you say in front of your daughter is modeling behaviors that she learns from. (For more ideas on healthy body image, read “The Incredible Shrinking Body: A Commentary On Body Image & Our Culture.”)
Physical beauty fades. Sadly, we feed the air-brushed culture by buying into it with our minds and our own money. Want to make a change? Stop buying it. It is the basic economic concept of supply and demand. If we stop buying it the media will be forced to change what it puts out there. Stop feeding the culture with your money and start empowering the females in your life with your words. Ladies, imagine what would happen if we as a collective stopped wasting our energy and money on negative outlets and started applying them towards more meaningful ones! The change starts with you.