How do we raise them to be healthy strong independent individuals confident in their own skin?
Inspired by international women day and the fact that I am raising two girls aged 6 and nearly 10.
My youngest recently told me watch the Little Mix music video for Black Magic. I actually couldn’t believe what I was watching!! Now maybe I am being ratty and over the top but I urge you to go and watch it right now…… The gist of the message was, if you wear glasses and look a bit geeky then boys won’t like you and you won’t be popular, however if you transform yourself into a sexy goddess wearing very little and showing as much flesh as possible then this will make you instantly attractive to boys.
I tried to ask my girls what message this gave them explaining my point but I am not sure if my words settled somewhere in their heads or merely whizzed right over. My point is that these messages whilst they might not understand them are aimed at young girls (as Little Mix do know their demographic) These messages filter down subliminally. I know Little Mix are not the only ones doing it but young minds are like sponges absorbing everything positive and negative and isn’t it about time with everything happening at the moment that we start to send out more positive messages?
So what can we do about it?
The NSPCC says that girls are 8 times more likely to contact them with issues around body image and each year the numbers are increasing. Many saying that they struggle to cope with the pressure of not being able to look like the images they see on social media and they felt disgusting. They also state that some of the girls use images of skinny women to inspire them to stop eating.
Now as a nutritionist I am acutely aware that whilst being overweight and obese can be detrimental to health so is being underweight. Whilst I was working for the NHS we were having discussions around a concept called HAES Health At Every Size. This focuses on what you are eating rather that what you a weighing. A sensible place to start, lets nourish ourselves and little ones with good food choices and plenty of exercise so they can feel happy from the inside. Teach them to take responsibility for their actions, stop creating guilt around foods and teach them to enjoy foods in the right balance. If I were to drink a small glass of red wine a day it might be considered good for me but if I drank 2 bottles a day it would harm me, well we need to think about our diet a bit like this.
Let’s show our children that the images we see in the media are not real and that within a healthy weight range this covers quite a difference in weight for each individual and includes all shapes sizes and colours, we should cherish and accept all of them. We should teach them that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and is as much about what is on the inside as it is the outside. Isn’t this what Roald Dahl was saying in his book The Twits!!
As parents we need to be aware of what our children are being exposed to on the various different forms of media however innocent they are. Girls bodies begin to change from quite an early age 9 or 10 and they can quite often begin to lay down a bit of body fat in order to deal with a massive growth spurt at the onset of puberty. This is a very vulnerable time for them so I think it is important that they are able to understand what is happening, how it is normal, and allow them some time to get used to their changing body without being embarrassed, this is the time when they could be very susceptible to negative ideas towards body image. As I am just approaching this with my eldest I feel it is a total minefield but something we must address. Apologies as this is written from a very one-sided view but I only have experience in raising girls, I would be really interested to hear views from those raising boys.
Whilst researching this blog post I came across the Dove self-esteem project amongst them the most amazing resource for parents that is a guide containing articles and checklists to help you boost body confidence in your child starting with you as a role model and how important it is for you as their greatest influence to love yourself. I’ve included this along with some other useful links below.
Dove self-esteem project tool…
I have found that the Be Real Campaign is doing some great and something worth supporting especially their real health campaign…
The NSPCC have some interesting facts ad figures on their website…
Media Smart are a not for profit organisation that produces resources for schools and parents to help young people think critically about the advertising they come across in their lives…