FACE IT: you want your kids to be good looking, don’t you?
Got girls? If you’re raising a daughter, you probably started fostering her self-esteem from an early age, enthusing over her crayon scribbles and praising her for putting her own socks on. But sooner than you think, she’s fretting about fitting in. It doesn’t help that media are bombarding her with images of rail-thin bodies and impossibly stunning faces. Fortunately, parents will always have a degree of influence when it comes to their child’s body image. They can buffer some of those noxious peer and media messages. They can support her when she comes home in tears because the class queen called her fat. But parents can also do damage if they’re overly critical about their looks or weight. “Some parents are perfectionists when it comes to their kids,” says Judy Wiener, psychologist at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Clearly, as much as we tell our kids not to fall for the hype, we too are sucked in by media messages about how we should look and dress. Confession time: You want your daughters to be slim and gorgeous, don’t you? Pretty people get ahead in life. For a parent it’s a tricky, sometimes unwieldy balance. We hope our kids will feel confident about who they are, the way they are. Then we push them to lose weight and look nice. “People do judge you by how you look,” admits Janet Boccone of Pickering, Ontario, mom to Hailey, 11, and Gabriella, 13. “It’s hard. Every day at school, all the girls are comparing the sizes of their thighs.” Boccone tries to instill self-esteem in her girls by praising them when they’ve done a good job, posting a quotation on the fridge about the value of uniqueness, and throwing away her magazines full of fashion models.
But she also encourages her daughters to look presentable, and she buys them the right clothes so they will fit in at school. “It’s definitely a fine line,” she says.
After all, who wants their girls to suffer a dearth of party invitations and valentines? “Being fat is one of the major reasons for peer rejection in our society,” says Wiener. But bite your tongue, Mom. Many girls gain weight right before a growth spurt, and telling them they’re eating too much will only sabotage their self-esteem. Let her know you too put on a few pounds before you shot up. If you’re really concerned about her size, focus on exercise instead of harping on diet. Then overhaul your pantry: Is it stocked with healthy choices or packed with junk?
If you must comment on your child’s looks, try to frame it positively, says Wiener. Instead of telling her she looks frumpy in that shirt, Wiener suggests saying: “Let’s see if we can find a shirt that goes better with these pants.”
Happily, some North American companies and campaigns are now helping girls build a positive selfimage by raising awareness, running media workshops, and using more realistic models in their ads. Boccone is thrilled with Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, and their Self Esteem Fund. She says it demonstrated to her daughters the fakery of media images. “I think it finally dawned on them – these are the women I’m comparing myself to, and they’re not real, they’re PhotoShopped.” As Dove says, “Imagine if the next generation of girls grew up without the
pressure to look a certain way, and know that you can help make that happen.”
DOVE (UNILEVER CANADA)
Tagline: “Campaign for Real Beauty” Offers tools and workshops to promote self-esteem, and produces ads with positive messages about realistic bodies. campaignforrealbeauty.ca
THE DOVE SELF-ESTEEM FUND
The goal of the Fund is two-fold: To develop tools and resources to help Canadian women and girls build stronger self-esteem and to support organizations in Canada that foster a broader definition of beauty and positive self-image among women or girls. dove.ca/doveselfesteemfund
THE BODY SHOP
Tagline: “Profits with Principles” “Activate Self Esteem” is one of five core values. Donates paid
staff time to local organizations working on these core values. thebodyshop.ca
Tagline: “We All Walk in Different Shoes” Uses diverse people, including a transgender woman and a black woman with albinism, in its ads. kennethcole.com
MEDIA AWARENESS NETWORK
Promotes media literacy and awareness. Special focus on media portrayals of girls and women. media-awareness.ca
ABOUT FACE (U.S.)
Helps women and girls resist media messages that foster a negative body image. about-face.org
Helpful as your girls grow up. These alternatives to mainstream teen magazines promote strong, healthy self-esteem and diversity.
GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING
TEEN VOICES (U.S.)