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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Girls on the Run: 5 ways to emphasize real beauty, healthy body image for girls

Posted May 9

You might not have noticed, but some of the greatest gifts you have in life are because you have a sister. (Deseret Photo)

Editor's Note: We've been sharing lots of information from Girls on the Run of the Triangle this month. See the More On This section for more posts. Today, Girls on the Run shares with us an article written by Dr. Caren Mangarelli, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke Children's Primary Care.

It is hard to raise children who define beauty as something other than what they see.

As a species and society, we are very visually oriented. In addition, we are constantly being bombarded with media images of a physical ideal that is unrealistic for the majority of the population.

We forget that we have more than one sense. For example, I am always comforted by the smell of wood burning. The sound of a talented vocalist accompanied by an acoustic guitar feeds my soul. We also forget that people are not all attracted to the same physical attributes or characteristics. How we make someone feel is often remembered long after that someone remembers the details of our appearance.

Girls on the Run addresses the topic of positive body image and real beauty throughout their curriculum. This is especially important in the eight- to 13-year-old girls we serve because their own bodies are changing so much during this age range. That part of the life cycle called puberty happens to all of them at some point during this time period.

I was reminded of this recently while at a swim meet. My own daughter is 10 years old and the range of body types and sizes up on the starting blocks varied greatly. Girls need to hear from their parents that these body changes are natural and normal. They also need to know that these changes happen to girls at different times during this age range.

This can be especially disconcerting for the girls that are on the front or back end of the time curve. Girls who go through puberty early often feel like they have a spotlight on them. They stand out at a time when they might feel more comfortable blending in.

At the same time, girls who go through puberty later can often feel like they are being left behind or left out of some special life club. I often recommend parents obtain and read the book, “The Care and Keeping of You," by American Girl. It is a good way to start the conversation about what to expect at home.

Here are my top recommendations for ways to encourage your children to think of beauty and body image in a healthy way:

Stop commenting on how they look. Spend more time trying to complement their actions and behaviors.

Stop focusing on weight and instead focus on healthy behaviors. Don’t allow words such as “fat” and “skinny," which are generally used in a derogatory manner, to be used in your household. Absolutely no teasing or body-shaming should be tolerated in your household. Try to remind your children that healthy comes in all shapes and sizes.

Make sure to point out when media is perpetuating unrealistic images of beauty. Girls and boys need to learn how to look at these images with a critical eye. Children need to know that the average model is often an unhealthy size. They also need to understand that digital and print images are often altered to take away or mask unwanted or undesirable characteristics and therefore are not portraying reality.

Take the time to view online and TV images of girls and women with your daughter and discuss your perceptions of what is realistic and unrealistic. This topic is also directly discussed in the GOTR curriculum.

Model healthy behaviors at home. Girls who see their own mothers constantly fussing and being self-critical about their own body shape and size, as well as participating in serial dieting, are more likely to see this behavior as necessary and normal. Fathers’ behaviors matter just as much. A girl’s first significant relationship with the opposite sex is usually with her father. A father needs to pause and think before commenting on his daughter’s appearance. He also needs to be thoughtful about the comments he is making about other women and their appearance and what he may or may not find attractive. His daughter is often listening.

Encourage your daughter to become involved in some extracurricular activity like a sport, club or volunteer opportunity. This can often give them a way to define themselves outside of their physical appearance or characteristics. Sports and physical activity can remind girls that their body can also be strong, fast, and agile. Be careful to avoid teams that emphasize appearance or a coach that encourages young girls to lose weight to improve performance.

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