By Susan Bryant
Sometimes I want to give every young girl I see a big hug and reassure her she looks absolutely fine just the way she is. It’s not easy being a girl now. It probably never was, but the pressure to be thin and achieve some idealized standard of beauty weighs heavier on girls now than ever before. From all angles, girls get the message their perfectly healthy, strong, normally developing bodies aren’t good enough.
According to the National Institute on Media and the Family, a survey of 9- and 10-year-old girls indicated 40 percent have already tried to lose weight. By age 13, 53 percent of American girls are unhappy with their bodies. By age 17, this rate increases to 78 percent.
Who’s to blame?
Is it possible to get through the checkout aisle at the grocery store without nearly every magazine telling you how to lose weight, look sexier and get a hot guy? Are TV shows and commercials any better? At a time when the self-esteem of young girls is most vulnerable, our culture encourages them only to see their “imperfections.”
Accepting yourself is tough when no one else seems to be doing it. Recent research on how peers influence body image discovered regular conversations among high school girls focused on appearance, dieting and weight monitoring (source: “Sage Journals, Feminism and Psychology”). Girls are harsh critics with each other and themselves.
Although the media and peers have a significant influence on how girls view their body, their own mothers play a huge role as well. In the article,“Helping Girls with Body Image,” researchers on the subject note, “Girls take to heart what their mothers say about bodies: their own, their daughters, those of strangers and celebrities. They notice when their mothers exercise obsessively, diet constantly or make derogatory comments about their own appearance. That should come as no surprise, as mothers are a girl’s first and, often, most influential role model.”
What do we do with all this information? It’s unrealistic to think we can shield our daughters from every negative influence regarding their body image. As with most parenting issues, however, the messages we send our kids consistently are the ones they will absorb the most. Girls need to know their bodies are beautiful, even if they don’t fit into their skinny jeans.
Of course, they’ll only believe this if we do.
Susan Bryant is a freelance writer and mother of two in Fishers. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.