These days, it seems that the age at which girls want to grow up and be more adult-like is getting younger and younger each day. Idols such as Miley Cyrus, while fun for girls to watch on TV, are getting around in less and less clothing, which can make the issue of girls and body image rear its head sooner than you’d anticipated as a parent. Tweens on diets, 8-year-olds wanting leather skirts, more and more unrealistic images being pushed out to the public…So what is a parent to do? How much can we protect our daughters from having an unrealistic view of what they should look like? There are so many influences in our children’s lives these days, and from toys to magazines and TV to their friends at school, it seems as though an unrelenting stream of ideas on what girls should and shouldn’t look like are filtering into their everyday lives. Perhaps, then, trying to prevent them from coming into contact with these influences is not the answer. Perhaps its a case of ensuring our daughters know the difference between what is real and what is not. We’ve put together a small guide in the hopes of providing some tips for parents with young girls who are trying to navigate the tricky subject of body image.
In recent times, there have been a series of outrages over girl’s toys in particular, and about the kind of message they portray to the younger generation. Bratz Dolls and Struts Horses have both been the subject of a lot of press recently because of the way they allegedly promote adult dressing in young girls. While the idea of our daughters being exposed to over-sexualised portrayals of toys is worrying, it is not exactly a new phenomenon, as the news stories would have us believe. All one needs to do it look at the original portrayer of unrealistic body image–Barbie. Instead of censoring the toys your children do and do not play with, why not consider developing a strategy for balancing out their perceptions of them? Speak openly with your children about the fact that beauty comes in many shapes and sizes, with specific reference to the fact that a lot of toys are unrealistic because they are just that–toys.
TV is another way in which our girls are being subject to unmeetable standards of femininity. Again, however, while it is much easier to restrict the amount of TV our kids watch, simply preventing them from exposure is not the full solution. Perhaps watching some of the shows you’re concerned about with your daughter and asking her what she thinks about it would be a better long-term approach to helping her develop a healthy body image and self esteem.
Negative images and unrealistic expectations have always been placed on children. While it does seem that these days those images are available from a much younger age, we need to remember that countering those images with positive ones is just as important. Look for online toys and games that reinforce positive body image, resilience and diversity, but most of all, communicate with your child and foster confidence and a sense of self esteem.