"Keep an eye out for 'weightist' images in the media (images that celebrate thinness in unrealistic ways and put down women who are even slightly overweight). Identify, discuss and refute them. The point is to not deny that weightism exists or to pretend that weightist comments aren't painful. Instead, help your daughter draw useful parallels between weightism and other forms of prejudice. Remind her that judging someone solely on the basis of her body size and shape can be as cruel as judging her solely on the basis of skin color, sex or religion."
Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D.
Lisa Sjostrom, Ed.M.
Co-author, Full of Ourselves: A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health and Leadership
Catherine Steiner-Adair works with girls and parents in her private practice and speaks about body image and eating disorders in workshops around the country. She recommends the following strategies and talking points to help girls develop positive body images and healthy eating and exercise habits -- and to help them not succumb to images promoted by the culture and adopted by their best friends.
Pink or blue? Think about the messages you are giving your daughter.
According to Steiner-Adair, the overemphasis on girls' appearance begins at babyhood. "As soon as a baby is dressed in pink or blue, the world responds differently to that baby, as there are gender-based expectations on how girls should behave and what should interest them. Adults respond so much to what a girl looks like that by age five or six, young girls are getting the notion that their body is their selling point. When body image, clothes, marketing for girls is so sexual, it is that much harder for girls to develop a healthy, non-sexualized relationship with their bodies."
Talk about who your daughter is instead of how she looks.
Steiner-Adair recommends that we compliment girls on qualities other than looks. "Parents so often say 'You look so pretty today,' but don't say things like, 'You were such a good friend today,' or 'You handled that frustration well.' It's very useful to compliment girls on their assertiveness and even their anger with statements like, 'You were brave to tell me how mad you were,' 'I like how you stand up for yourself,' 'You and I disagree and I respect your thinking,' or 'I never would have thought of that; you are so smart about these things.' "
Talk about what women look like in the media.
Girls' images of themselves are shaped by what they see around them, by brand names in magazines, and in particular, by TV shows that focus more on what women wear and how their bodies look than on what they can do. Steiner-Adair recommends parents limit, but not ban, girls' exposure to television and particularly commercials. Talk with girls about what they see to balance the effects of these images. It's never too early to begin this conversation. "By the age of two, kids are aware of brand names, so think of what the images selling those brands may be doing to them."
Make clothes choices that protect their girlhood.
Avoid buying clothes for preschool, elementary-school, and middle-school girls that make them look like sexy teenagers, advises Steiner-Adair. "We are living in a time when there are undies for five-year-olds that say 'Juicy Girl' or 'Not on a School Night.' Little girls don't need to wear thongs that say 'Eye Candy' or any clothes that promote a 'sexy chic.' They are just too young to understand this. These products call attention to sexuality, which gets in the way of girls experiencing their bodies as children."
Next: Helping Girls Get Active