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Female body insecurities?

2015

Hello,

This question isn’t regarding a client but my own daughter, I’m looking for some help and guidance.

My daughter is 8 years old and in grade 3. Her mother and I are married, I work and she stays home, we also have two other children, a 5 year old son and a 3 year old son. We’ve always tried promoting a healthy body image and have never fussed over the way she looks or told her that there is anything wrong with her body, she watches age appropriate shows and listens to age appropriate music.

Our concern is that she has a lot of insecurities regarding the way she looks. She talks about how other girls in her class are skinnier than her, she says that she’s ugly, she talks about how she hates certain features of her body. I think a lot of it comes from her friends and cousins, but besides locking her up I don’t know what to do about that.

We are looking for ways to help her with this. Suggestions?

Thanks.

David Rantucci
...

My two cents...

Body image in an 8 year old just may be one of the most difficult stages you will experience... I stress I say might... She is right on the edge of learning about societal pressures and when girls start to develop awareness of their physical bodies and their differences from the people around them. It is a very frustrating time for all parents, don’t worry you’re not out of the norm at all. Every child is a little different so I can only give general suggestions from kids I’ve worked with and know.

The single most important thing right now is role modeling. She is at a very impressionable age, and needs to see that worth comes from more than physical appearance. You need to verbalize in front of her that other things are more important, like being a good person, kind and considerate. So... your wife is gonna love this... give praise to your wife and your daughter often for things other than their appearance. Tell them often they are pretty, and sweet, but tell both of them often that you appreciate things they are doing. Like putting dishes in the sink or whatever. It shows that their value is more than looking nice.

Be conscious of negative comments regarding your body in front of kids.

If you ever looked in to the mirror and said that you look fat/gained weight/have cellulite then please don’t do it ever again! It’s bad for you; it’s bad for your daughter! What she learns, is that despising your body is normal. And that looking for flaws and criticizing you, is something that women do, regardless of how they look. Remember that whatever you do, she’ll copy (so don’t be surprised to see your 6 year old criticizing her tiny belly if you criticize yours). Everyone does it... it’s true, everyone has some feature about their body they don’t like... reverse your own self conversation and verbally express something you like about yourself, or your wife in front of her. Positive body talk is important, and it needs to be frequent too.

Be careful of “I-need-to-loose-weight” talk in front of kids.

Again, kids learn how to be a grown up from you, the parent, and your girl is learning how to act like a women by imitating mothers behavior. Do you want your little girl to think that she should be on a diet? Do you want her to think that regardless from her actual size she should lose weight because this is how grown up women are? I know you don’t… but it’s hard and takes practice.

Watch for the food-guilt association.

Stop with the dichotomy of the good food and bad food, healthy food and guilty-pleasure food. And stop the I-feel-so-bad-I-ate-all-that-cake talk. Food should be the fuel for our bodies, the energy to get us working and playing and sometimes the comfort to lift our spirits. If you struggle with guilt, keep it to yourself. Because for kids, food is just food, and it would be great if it could stay that way.

Don’t praise only for looks. Praise for what people do, and how smart/strong/capable they are when they do things.

If a young girl hears that she’s pretty all the time, she might end up thinking that’s her only quality. She becomes unsure of her real value. Her self esteem becomes low, and she starts thinking that her worth is based only on her looks. She can become scared of losing her beauty: because she’ll think that’s why people love her. She’ll start believing that she should always be beautiful. So next time you feel like complimenting your daughter, tell her that she’s fast, creative or fearless! Acknowledge her sense of humor, her critical thinking or her good heart. Let her know that you value her beyond her pretty eyes! Also, praises your wife for things often in front of her, she will see that you love her mother for more than how she looks. Praise characters in TV that you and or she like for things they do, not how they look. Seeing the value of other characteristics then physical on a regular basis will help her understand that people are worth more than their beauty.

Hide the diet foods/pills/magazines/beauty and youth creams etc…

Show them that you love your body for what it does, and not for how it looks.

Even if it sounds odd, compliment yourself in front of your girl, and or compliment your wife in front of your daughter OFTEN. I know I’ve said it twice now, but home is where most body image and self esteem comes from before the ages of ten. Then it shifts to school interactions, you need to build a self confidence that they can rely on when they get older
Tell her what’s that you like about your body that’s not connected to how it looks. I say that I love my belly because it used to be a home for my babies and it makes for a very comfy pillow ;). I also praise how strong my body is, and that’s why I can lift her and play with her.

Your wife is gonna love this, but tell her often about things you like about her body that are not connected to how it looks but rather how it makes you feel, in front of your daughter. For example say you love her smile because it lets you know she’s happy. Tell your daughter you love her eyes and her laugh because it makes you feel good to know she is happy.

Do physical activity together for fun!

I used to think about exercise just as a way of losing weight and not as a way to have fun. But I want my girls to see physical activity as a fun way to spend time, to feel strong and connected. I’m not that perfect, so what we actually do, is yoga at home (that’s my kind of exercise) and not running in the morning ;) But I do plan on taking her hiking as much as possible this summer, and her dad is trying to insert in her his love for winter sports. So I hope we’re on the right track :).

Cook together. And always eat breakfast.

It’s proven that kids who are involved in food preparation eat better and healthier. So let them help you around with groceries, recipe search and cooking. Teach them the joy of eating well and the routine of a well balanced breakfast. Because eating at this age needs to be joyful. They need to know that their bodies need fuel and eating whole foods means they will feel good and be able to do the things they want, while eating junk foods high in sugar and fat will make their bodies feel icky and they won’t be able to have fun the way they like. Talk about how good it makes you feel to eat a certain food but leave out that it’s healthy. A good home cooked meal makes you feel loved etc. You love eating together because you enjoy spending time together.

Talk about what they see on TV and in magazines. Explain the principle of publicity.

Even if your girl is still young, explain to her that these ladies are there because they’re trying to convince you to buy a shampoo/cream/car (whatever it is). The older they get, the more publicity they’ll see. Make sure they know it’s not real and that there is a purpose in it. Ensure they are aware that these things they see on TV are not real life, and these women do not look like that in their everyday life, just like when your daughter gets dressed up for a play. They look interesting and different but it isn’t real, and nobody looks like that all the time.

Install the positive self esteem and let them know that you love them for who they are not how they look. Continue this with other people, especially women. Praise characteristics they have other then how they look.

Your voice becomes the inner voice of your kids. When you tell them that you love them, that they’re capable, that they did something good and that you appreciate their effort, then this is how they’ll talk to themselves. They will also mirror talking to themselves how you talk to yourself so verbalize your happiness with your body and mind. “I did something great today, I made someone having a bad day fell better”... That becomes the base of their self esteem. And girls with a positive self esteem deal better with obstacles, critique and the pressures of the world (like the pressure to be pretty and sexy). Show them how happy they make you feel, how you appreciate what they do and how you love them always!

Sarah Greenslade
...

Hi David,

I’m sorry to hear that your daughter, and your family subsequently is going through this difficult time. This is such a tough issue. I am curious as to whether she is involved in any activities or clubs which foster her interests/strengths/talents. Is there something that she loves to do and has access to? I ask because building strengths in any area helps to move focus from insecurities, slowly at times, but surely and steadily. That, along with “purposeful praise”, pinpointing the cool and positive and awesome things about her personality and overall being....may help to take focus away from her appearance.

Image. A huge, almost overwhelming struggle to overcome, these days especially. Bit by bit and little by little, we can help to shift the focus.

All the best to your daughter and your family,

Ally
...

Hi David,

While I don't have any daughters of my own, I have had many experiences in my professional and personal experience with this age group.

While it’s hard to control what her friends 'say' and 'do' I would focus on what you can do for your daughter. As you may know girls do mature a bit quicker and that self esteem and body image starts to set around this time. Remember that all children do develop differently and to listen to what they are saying. It sounds like you have heard your daughter comments and being proactive in how to support her.

In my opinion, at this age group it is important to work on healthy self-awareness and self-confidence. While it's important to have talks with young girls about these concepts it is also more important to find activities and role models that can help educate her in this matter. I would suggest finding some recreation activities that focus on healthy concepts and incorporate activities that help her learn and have fun. Also, finding an activity that she can learn and build on skill development will help her with self-esteem. I would suggest such agencies like Boys and Girls Club and YMCA for such activities. They offer various program for this age group. Self-esteem is an important concept to build on and will help with adversity. If your daughter has positive outlets and has healthy image of herself, maybe she can be influential to her friends and family as well. Healthy mind makes a healthy body!

I hope this help. Good luck.

ChiVi T.
...

Hi David,

I think many influences on young girls comes from what is being portrayed in the media. Young girls look up to the women who are shown on television, magazines, billboards etc. They show young girls unrealistic body types but to them it seems like the ideal body type. This negatively impacts many aspects of their lives because not only do they think they should have the ideal body type but they think their friends or family members should as well, which makes them pass judgment and potentially hurt some feelings.

I think it is important to show your daughter what true natural beauty is. Not what is shown in the media. Tell her the importance of what it means to be healthy. Although a lot of young girls think the most important thing is to be skinny ...... It's not. The most important thing is to be healthy. Every girl has a different body type. Some are just naturally skinny and can eat whatever they want and some are heavier and have to be a little bit more careful with what they eat. It doesn't mean it's right or wrong or you are fat or ugly. It's just how the body is. Every person is beautiful and it is so important to teach young people this. Nobody is ugly or deserves to be called fat.

I think there are a lot of positive ways to teach your daughter what it is to be healthy and that skinny is not the most important thing. You should explain to her about different body types. I would also tell her not to be influenced by her friends or cousins and really explain to her why. Let her know she is beautiful and healthy and that's what is most important. She is too young to be worrying about this stuff. She is a child and deserves to have a fun childhood without any worries. Especially worries of being ugly or not skinny enough.

Jordan Turner
...

Hi David,

We share almost the same family situation. My kids are just about two years older.

I am thinking there will be good advice from others on promoting healthy body image. Certainly something that is important for our daughters. And it sounds like you are providing a good foundation for her.

I wonder if the central theme here might be less related to body image and more related to the value she puts on the words and comments of others. Are there other signs or areas where the opinions of others affect her?

If she were supported in reflecting on what others say or things she observes — and adjust the value she assigns to that — it may go a long way toward feeling better about herself.

Questions from a position of curiosity might spark some new shifts in thinking for her. It's less about getting an answer and more about dropping new thoughts for her to think through.

Here's a couple ideas that may be helpful — of course needed to be adapted to your own tone and her personality:

"What did your friend mean when she said that?"

"Is a friend someone who helps you feel good about yourself or hurts you by saying mean things?"

"Who says what is ugly and what is beautiful? What gives them that power?"

"Who is in charge of the way you feel about yourself?"

"You've got the right idea caring about yourself and the way you look. Let's find some ways that other people's opinions don't bring you down."

"You are too smart to let others opinions or words change the way you feel about yourself."

"Do you want to give control to that person over the way you feel about yourself?"

And of course don't forget to say this one on repeat: "You are my daughter and I love you." It speaks right to the inner child and her desire to be seen and loved.

Best of luck to you and your daughter.

James Freeman
...

I have a great activity I do with youth, which could easily be adapted for an 8 year old, which you might try. It takes the focus off of what a body looks like, and focuses on what the body does for us all day. It could be a good start to that discussion of the importance of a body functioning well, and appreciation for what she can do. I doubt it will magically take away the issues, this is a very common insecurity with girls thanks to society and she is probably picking up on some things that are happening at school or elsewhere despite all of your efforts at home.

The activity starts with a list of all the things she loves to do. Things like hugging family members, going for walks, jumping on a trampoline, singing, cooking, etc. etc etc. The longer the list gets, the more impactful the activity is. I also make a point to mention things a person LIKES to do, as opposed to what they're GOOD at doing, to avoid as much self judgement as possible.

Taking a picture of a body outline, she can draw, colour or write on the outline which parts of the body she uses for things. Legs might be for soccer, the brain might be for academics, arms for hugging, a heart for being a good friend, etc. When the drawing is complete, you can have an idea of all the beautiful things our body does for us every day, and even talk about other things it does without us thinking about it, like breathing and pumping blood, digesting food and feeding cells to help us grow, etc. You could even steer the conversation to the possibility that if her arms, legs or any part of her body were different and someone else's, she might not be able to do all of the things she loves (although depending on her thought patterns, this might not be helpful if she envies other girls for being able to do things she struggles with).

She is a lucky girl to have a dad who cares so much and is noticing these patterns before it gets extreme. I wish you well.

Miranda Conley
...

Hi David,

It is great that you are trying to promote a healthy body image at home and being aware of the types of media your daughter have access to. Most 8 years old girls are starting their puberty and there will be questions and insecurities regarding body image and how she looks and it is crucial that her family is supporting her. Although we can’t control what her peers at school says and dos, I would bring this up to the teacher and possibly ask if there’s a way to add a lesson on body image and being healthy in health class etc. because learning as a group with her peers can help normalize her insecurity and possibly also gaining self-esteem.

I would suggest doing group activities, such as crafts, that can promotes healthy body image. One activity could be tracing each other body on a large piece of poster paper. Once the tracing is done, you get to decorate your own body. If any negative comments rise about a certain body parts, you can have a discussion and explain that everybody is different and that A's small legs might not suits B's body type, in addition focus on positive things about that body parts: B legs are great because it gives powerful kicks for soccer games, etc. By focusing on the positive things about her body it can make her feel great knowing all her abilities and features and it can help boost her confidence!

Also, another way is by having cooking session together and you can slip in lesson about being healthy and to know that being healthy comes in different size and shape. Having a good understanding about being healthy can promote a positive look on her as well. I think what most 8 years old girls need is to have knowledge on what is healthy and how to achieve it as well as doing activities that can help boost self-esteem and confidence.

Ploy Ethamma
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