My sister and I have both struggled with body image issues all our lives. As little ethnic girls in primary school routinely teased for the darkness of our skin and the food in our lunchboxes, we very quickly caught onto the fact that we didn’t fit in. We didn’t feel beautiful until we were much older and we have our amazing husbands and beautiful friends to thank for keeping those nasty little voices from school out of our heads.
Now we both have daughters and if there is one thing we could do for them it would be to help them completely avoid ever feeling like they don’t feel in, that they aren’t pretty enough or smart enough or normal enough.
Our daughters don’t have sisters to help them through. We both have two boys and one girl each so we are hoping our daughters, first cousins, become just like sisters. That makes it even more important to me that my niece Giacinta, 10, has the right idea when it comes to body image, because she is already one of the most important influences on my daughter Caterina, six.
My sister Marina and I talk about how we are raising our children all the time and she shared with me her concerns about ensuring Giacinta never develops body image issues. We want our girls to be as happy as they can be, but we know we have our work cut out for us. Marina says she never wants to hear Giacinta worry if she is thin or fat, she just wants her to focus on being healthy.
However even her vigilance can’t shield her daughter from body image pressures. “She has started to say things like ‘I look fat in that’”, Marina says, “and she is spending more time brushing her hair and wanting to put on makeup now!”
Dove does amazing work for women of all ages when it comes to positive body image and now they are doing something even more amazing for our children. They are running Dove Self-Esteem ‘Confident Me’ workshops at schools around the country. My niece and I attended a recent one and it was incredibly eye opening.
The Dove team started the session by talking to the class about respecting their bodies and other people’s bodies. They took them through a presentation showing how fashion and body shape has changed over the centuries. Then the hard stuff.
“Where does body image pressure come from?”
Several hands were flung into the air and they called out so many great answers. They said body image pressure comes from friends, social media, sometimes parents and then one young girl very rightly said, “Yourself”.
Then, the photoshopping part. The Dove team played a video showing an ordinary-looking woman and ran through the process of her being manipulated into looking like a billboard model. They played it twice, it was quite incredible and I heard my niece say something that truly shocked me.
“I thought they were real.”
We were then taken through ads featuring celebrities – One Direction advertising Pepsi and Taylor Swift advertising Coke. Once again the kids were asked to share their observations and astounded us with their wisdom once more.
“Maybe they [One Direction and Taylor Swift] get upset that they don’t look like that every day as well?”
The session ran for around 40 minutes and concluded with thoughts like, “Isn’t it sad that pressures stop us from feeling beautiful.” They spoke about selfies, social media and health. Then students were asked to fill in a pledge to themselves, writing down what they wish for their relationship with their bodies.
I asked Giacinta about body image and if girls her age worry about that stuff yet. She said they definitely do. They talk about diets and body size, hair, looks and even compare themselves to each other and to celebrities.
My niece is a beautiful and confident girl and has never given us reason to have any real concerns about her body image. She is a dancer, she’s healthy and she has a mum who looks after herself, who tries new things, lives life to the full and who plays outdoor soccer with a mum soccer team every week.
It certainly makes you think. Doesn’t it?
Here’s why it’s so important that we talk to our girls about beauty confidence:
How do you address your daughter’s body image?