How can we help teens have a positive body image?
Senior school is hard.
I thought I felt over-protective when baby Flea, a few weeks after her third birthday, toddled into school. Or when she rode her bike on two wheels for the first time.
Now, though, the things I want to protect my daughter from seem intangible. The things that hurt her are the images she’s surrounded with, the images that attempt to show her what women should look like.
Maybe it’s Ariana Grande looking for all the world like a cartoon embodiment of the word “sexy”. Or it’s that impossibly white-toothed, smooth-skinned kid on her favourite YouTube channel.
Often, it’s her friends and family posting carefully posed and meticulously posted photos on social media with captions complaining about how “fat” and “ugly” they are. It makes me wonder how we can help our teens have a positive body image when this is what they see?
Who can blame those kids for posting that way?
When Kim Kardashian Photoshops her Instagram pics to ensure her waist is inhumanly tiny, can you judge a teen girl for aspiring to look the same?
How do you protect your girl from something that doesn’t even really exist?
At the age of 11, Flea is still blissfully confident in her appearance and body. If asked, she’ll tell you that she’s beautiful. That she has great hair, and strong arms and legs, and a good smile. She’ll roll her eyes if I’m the one asking and agree that yes, what’s most beautiful about her is that she has a kind and open heart.
But it’s like I can see the end of that innocence barrelling down the road now she’s in a teenage environment. And I can’t throw myself in the way to stop all that negativity from hitting her. Can I?
How to Help Teens have a Positive Body Image
According to new research commissioned by Dove, 67% of girls think that the media sets an unrealistic expectation of beauty, and one in five girls said they would not attend social events because they were too worried about how they look.
That’s a generation of girls who think you can’t do sport if you don’t look pretty. That it’s better to skip a party or night out than wear a dress that makes you look fat. Yeah. Tell me again how the Kardashians are “empowering” our girls?
As a Mum there are some things I can do to minimise the impact of this on Flea and help my teenager feel good about herself. First and foremost, we talk about it. We watch Ariana videos together and giggle at the idea of going to the gym in white stiletto heels. We talk about how sad it is when girls think their value is their beauty, not the other way around.
I also make a point of telling Flea not to be a part of the problem. Don’t comment on other friend’s photos with “ur so fit” – if you want to comment, remark on how someone made you laugh at school, or they’re a great friend. Don’t buy into the culture of pretending you think you’re unattractive, or that it’s okay to call someone else names based on their appearance.
And I try to show a good example. I’m not textbook beautiful. I’m a bit old, and overweight, and my hair really needs to be introduced to a good conditioner. But do I let it stop me screaming my way down zip lines? Am I too embarrassed to don a swimsuit and jump in a swimming pool? Do I not go to parties because I can’t wear a slinky short dress any more? Good grief, no.
Life’s too short to put off all the fun until you can fit into a size 6 swimsuit (not to mention that this will probably only happen for me when my rotting corpse decomposes enough to be able to squish into it). I want my daughter to see that life is for living, and what you look like is no reason not to live every moment to the full.
As bloggers, we have a part to play in helping teens have a positive body image, I think. I know my daughter has grown up with a house where we’re always taking photos, and trying to show things off to look ‘just so’
But maybe sometimes, rather than filtering, cropping and lighting every photo to make ourselves look perfect, we should post the odd selfie that shows us as we really are? Isn’t it worth it to tell our daughters that natural faces and bodies are perfectly worth celebrating and sharing?
It’s nice to see wider campaigns about body positivity, too, and brands getting involved in such a positive message.
This month, Dove is supporting the Be Real Body Image pledge, which aims to change the way we think about body image in the UK. Did you know that Dove only uses real images of real women in their advertising without airbrushing to extremes? How fantastic is that?
If you want to support the #PledgetoBeReal campaign check out @doveUK and #PledgeToBeReal on Twitter.
*Research commissioned by Dove.