A large percentage of girls, as young as six years old, worry about their weight, especially believing that they are too fat. This is a worrying new trend, largely sparked by social media, magazines, television and film characters, tiny pop stars and increasingly skinny dolls. Our girls today are bombarded with unrealistic and unhealthy images.
There are things you can do to help your daughter to feel more accepting of herself and reduce the likelihood of unhealthy dieting behaviour. As a parent, your goal is to try to increase your daughter’s body image and self-confidence and the most important place to start here is yourself.
As a parent, a mother in particular, you must be very careful that your daughter does not pick up on any insecurities that you may have. Ban all talk of dieting in your house and avoid dieting yourself. You must try very hard to speak positively about your own body always and never say anything negative about the way you look in your daughter’s presence. Similarly avoid talking about anybody else’s body – whether positively or negatively. Make sure that you never comment on your daughter’s appearance, this includes never praising her for her looks in any way. Instead focus on paying her compliments for what she does, the actions she takes, things she says and things she achieves. This avoids her developing self-worth based upon her looks and instead helps her to feel about who she really is, looks aside.
Next, you must be very careful about outside influences on your daughter. Keep a close eye on her internet activity, including any videos she may watch online, and make sure that you filter any television she is exposed to, to remove any programmes or adverts which focus on ‘looking good’, sexualising girls or showing them achieving anything – including happiness, based on their looks. Be careful about magazines or books that she reads, I don’t recommend any magazines specifically aimed at girls, as these all tend to focus heavily on appearances and being ‘pretty’. With books, try to choose some that have a strong heroine who is popular and happy for being kind, brave, sporty or funny. Remove any that focus on the characters being attractive. You should also be careful about the toys your daughter plays with, especially dolls which have a very unrealistic, skinny, body. You can get dolls which have more realistic and childlike bodies.
Try to encourage your daughter to find a hobby that she enjoys and can meet regularly with like-minded peers. In addition, I would encourage her to find a sporting activity that she enjoys, perhaps cycling, climbing, tennis, swimming or a team sport. Make sure that you do not place any emphasis on the sport helping to keep her slim. Instead focus on the sport being fun and helping her body to be strong.
When it comes to your daughter’s eating, do be careful to not try to assert control. Her eating should always be under her control, free of pressure from you to eat more, or eat more healthily. Again, don’t praise her for eating ‘well’, or reward her for clearing her plate, as this is likely to backfire, causing her to have more anxiety about eating.
For more tips on raising children with a healthy relationship with food – and their bodies – check out my Gentle Eating Book – in the UK and Rest of the World.