My daughter is six. At this age, she is amazingly comfortable in her body. She inherited a long-legged, athletic body from her father and she puts it to good use. I am in awe of her unaffected grace as she leaps around the room in ballet class or sprints down the side walk, beating her brother and me by a good half-a-block. She likes to express herself by draping her body in bold fashion choices that aren’t dependent on what her friends are wearing, but rather reflect an artist’s love of fabric and texture and color. If you ask her if there is anything she dislikes about her body or the way she looks, she will give you a funny look and say, “No!”
As a mom, I want her to always feel this way, but I know there are challenges ahead that threaten her positive self-esteem. According to Dr. Anita Gurian, professor of child psychiatry at NYU, girls’ self-esteem “plummets” after age nine as “self-esteem becomes too closely tied to physical attributes.” Consider the following statistics:
- Eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression are the most common mental health problems in girls.
- 59% of 5-12th grade girls in one survey were dissatisfied with their body shape.
- 20-40% of girls begin dieting at age 10.
- By 15, girls are twice as likely to become depressed as boys.
- Among 5-12th graders, 47% said they wanted to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
At Girls Inc., we work to address these disturbing trends and advocate for a culture that values women and girls for what they do, not how they look. Programs such as Girls Inc. Media Literacy® and Redefining Beauty educate girls about the unrealistic images they encounter in the media and encourage them to define beauty on their own terms. Through hands-on activities, girls are able to purge negative body thoughts in a safe environment and gain the support of other girls who feel the same pressures they do.
I also know there is a lot I can do at home to foster my daughter’s positive self-esteem. I’ll talk about health, not weight, and encourage our family to eat real food and exercise. I will talk about my own body in positive terms. I will make a point of calling out images of women that are unrealistic or harmful so she understands what the media is selling. Together, we will get through the tough years ahead with our self-esteem intact. And, maybe we can inspire a few other women and girls along the way.
What will you do to inspire the girl in your life to have positive self-esteem?