My daughter has the most gorgeous dark, curly hair. It’s one of the first things that people notice about her. It’s also the thing that she likes the least about herself. Since she turned 4, she has a fit every time I want her to wear it out. “It’s too puffy, it looks crazy, I hate it,” she says. I don’t know what surprised me more—the fact that she didn’t like her beautiful hair, or that I was dealing with self-image issues at such an early age. At six, I thought the biggest dilemma she would have is worrying about how much cash the tooth fairy would leave her (she insists that each tooth is worth $20!). Certainly not concern that her vest makes her look too puffy. Where is this coming from?
Up until this point, I thought I had been doing a pretty good job building Journey’s self-esteem. But this incident made me realize that my positive words and anecdotes of encouragement were not enough. As I begin to look for answers, I soon found out that my little girl isn’t alone. A study by University of Central Florida found that nearly half of the 3- to 6-year-old girls surveyed said they worry about being fat. About one-third would change a physical attribute, such as their weight or hair color. This blew me away!
Although the study concluded that the girls’ self-esteem does not appear to be influenced the by media, I’m not so sure I agree. Stroll down the doll aisle lately? Good ‘ole Barbie has been sidelined by flirty, dare I say it, slutty replacements like Bratz, Monster High and Fashionista Barbie with full lips, heavy makeup and sexy outfits. Add to that the constant marketing of too sexy clothes and kiddie makeup in the girls department of just about every store. These media and marketing messages can have a powerful impact on young girls that are in the process of shaping their self-images.
But before I go blaming it all on the media and society, I realize that I am my daughter’s biggest role model. Am I sending messages that are contributing to her feelings about her body image? Am I always dieting? Do I constantly point out what I don’t like about my body? Do I complain in the mirror when I get dressed? Do I compare myself to others that I think have the “perfect” body? As a woman, not a day goes by that I am not reminded by a commercial, a magazine, or some type of media of what my “ideal” self should be. While I do not think my body is perfect, I gave up on trying to live up society’s beauty ideals a long time ago.
I realize that as Journey gets older, I will have less control over the never-ending impossible images of beauty that she is exposed to once she leaves the house. But I can do my best to combat those images with honest conversations about the real meaning of beauty. I can talk to her about why it’s important to celebrate our differences rather than conform to an unrealistic standard of beauty. I can tell her that what she weighs and what she wears is not more important than who she is inside. I can surround her with images of amazing women and girls of all shapes and colors. I can paint her walls with positive affirmations. And hopefully, one day soon, when she looks in the mirror and I ask her what she sees, she’ll answer with one word. Beauty.