My 10 year old daughter and her friends are obsessed with weight and body image. They are constantly critiquing themselves and comparing themselves to everyone around them. It hurts me to think that she is unhappy with herself just the way she is. What can I do to change her attitude?
Your 10 year old daughter, and the 15 year old neighbor, her 18 year old sister, the 25 year old college student who lives up the street from them, her 45 year old professor and her 70 year old mother….all obsessed with body image and weight. It’s everywhere. In our society, where the quest for the best recipe is equally as hot of a topic as fitness and weight loss, it’s amazing we all don’t sit home and count our precious calories with every bite and then shame ourselves if we took one bite too many.
And of course, our wafer thin role models of beauty and popularity in the media are rarely above a size 2 for women. Although the push for plus size models has made its way into the mainstream marketing world, the attitude shift of acceptance and redefining beauty is much slower than is necessary to protect our current generation of image obsessed daughters with image obsessed role models in the form of caregivers, peers and the super cute actors and actresses they watch on TV.
I would like to tell you to beat it into her that true beauty is who we are on the inside and it shouldn’t matter what people think of you as long as you know you are beautiful and treat others with kindness, etc, etc. etc….but if that was easy, than we wouldn’t have this society filled with the image obsessed. I think we are still a great distance away from saying “Hey Vanessa, your heart looks beautiful today. You must have been really kind to others for it to look so good. What level of gratitude are you feeling to beam so brightly? I must have it!”
And although its true, that beauty does reside within, it’s a matter of understanding and believing this at your core level and living it in order for it to make a difference, not just saying it. If you’re not there yet, then I suggest starting with the basics. With your daughter, write down on paper what internal beauty looks like and what external beauty looks like. Define them and then come up with the pros and cons of each. What does internal beauty get you versus external beauty? And vice versa. Sometimes we need to intellectually differentiate and name it to make it understandable.
And be truthful. People are drawn to other people by the way they make them feel. We are naturally attracted to people who make us laugh or feel good. Most of us can think of a time when we met someone whose outward appearance was attractive, but their personality or the way they treated others made us rethink how we rated their attractiveness. It’s easy to find lots of examples of these characteristics and personalities from characters on their favorite TV shows and movies. Point out the the way others respond to them and their attitudes, despite their appearance. Use them to explain the value and importance of how they treat others and the lasting impact it will have, thus increasing their natural attractiveness!
But most importantly, notice the way you talk about yourself and your body image. Caregivers are the primary role models for children, as they watch everything we do and say. What are your own attitudes toward your self image? If she hears or suspects your own dissatisfaction with yourself, she will naturally think this is the norm of how she should respond to her own perceived flaws. Even if you are not in love with your own body, model your behavior as though you are and wait till you see your friends to air your frustrations, while you are working on your own transition to change any negative attitudes you may have.
It’s a tough one, this change of perception. But the foundation of acceptance you help her build now, can make the rest of her eating and living career that much more pleasant. And for those around her as well.