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Body Image

How Parents Can Help

Many of us who are parents want to protect our daughters from the constant onslaught of destructive messages they receive concerning their bodies. Yet it is easy to feel helpless when facing a pervasive popular culture that commodifies and sexualizes women and girls’ bodies.  While it might be nearly impossible to shield our children from the mass media, including advertising, television, movies, magazines and the Internet, the messages girls receive at home can have a big impact on them.  Here are some ways to empower your daughter:

  • Make your home a safe haven. Girls receive hostile messages from society about how they should look. When they are at home, they need to feel protected from the constant scrutiny regarding their weight, their complexion, their hair and every other aspect of their appearance. Tell your daughter she’s beautiful on a regular basis, while also focusing on attributes that have nothing to do with physical appearance. It is especially important for father figures to make positive comments about their daughter’s appearance and abilities.

  • Ask your neighborhood schools to teach media literacy, including how the media contributes to looksism, racism, ableism, homophobia and ageism.

  • Help your daughter understand that advertisers and their clients (from fashion magazines to music video channels) must make girls feel bad about their bodies in order to turn a profit.  Only by exploiting our insecurities will they get us to buy their products, which we hope will improve the way we look.

  • Expose her to accomplished women who are successful for their achievements. Unlike boys, who see men they can emulate daily as their principals, town leaders, and national leaders, most role models available to girls are pop stars, actresses and models—women who have become famous at least partly because of their looks.

  • Teach her about the necessity of body fat during puberty right before her growth spurt.

  • Prioritize meals in your home. Try and eat at least one meal a day together as a family, without the television.

  • Increase the chances that your daughter will eat healthy meals and snacks by packing lunches, creating standard meal times, and stocking your home with healthy food.

  • Prioritize daily exercise, emphasizing physical activity as essential to good health, not as a vehicle to look thin.

  • Be cognizant of what you say to boys versus girls. Research shows that mothers give different information to boys than girls. We may unconsciously say “eat more” to boys while implying that girls should diet. Girls often personalize criticism more than boys.

  • Limit music video channels and when possible watch them with your children. Teach your children to analyze the roles women have in the videos, the messages communicated in the videos about relationships and status, and who is making money off the videos.

  • Teach her to view the media with a critical eye and stress activities other than media in your home. Girls are more likely than adults to compare their bodies to the images they see in media, and to emulate the kind of behavior they witness.

Written by: Sarai Walker and Alison Amoroso
Last revised: January 2005

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