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How to Encourage Young Girls to Have a Healthy Body Image

How to Encourage Young Girls to Have a Healthy Body Image
SEPTEMBER 12TH, 2022
Girls doing crafts on a lawn
The relationship between girls and their bodies has been fraught for decades. And as screen time becomes a more integral part of daily life, girls are exposed to stereotype-reinforcing shows and sexy or body-focused social media posts on a regular basis. It’s no wonder that 8 out of 10 girls say they’ve been on a diet by fourth grade. Having the tools and the strategies for what to say to a girl with body image issues can help girls develop a healthy and positive relationship with their bodies.

Mainstream media, movies, TV, and even cartoons can inspire a negative body image for young girls. Luckily, with movies like Turning Red, we’re starting to move towards a more inclusive and realistic representation of young girls and their mind/body relationships.

Talking about body image with our girls can be difficult. Often, we ourselves have a rocky history with a healthy body image that we don’t want to pass on to our young ones. Having the tools and resources to talk to girls about their bodies–and all the changes they go through can help them gain confidence in and love for their bodies, rather than shame. After all, our bodies are amazing–and we only get this one.

If you’re a parent or caregiver of a young girl, here are some strategies to think through when talking to them about having a healthy body image.

1. Notice how you talk about your body

Children model behavior. While we can tell them to eat their veggies and brush their teeth if they don’t see it from the trusted grownups in their life, it can be hard to convince them to continue the behavior.

This goes for how girls think and feel about their bodies, too. If you, or other trusted adult women in her life, are talking negatively about their own body, then your daughter may end up modeling that behavior.

The relationship we have with our bodies is sensitive, and while you may be on your own journey, it’s important to remember your young girls are taking it in. Pause before you mention your unhappiness with your weight or size. Be kind to yourself, you and your girl(s) deserve it.

2. Focus on what her body does, not what it looks like

There is enough content in the world telling girls what they should look like. Fortunately, what happens at home is more likely to influence girls than the external messages they get from TV and/or social media.

Focusing on what their bodies do versus what they look like promotes a positive relationship with their own bodies.
Instead of
You look so pretty!
Your body looks great.
That food makes us fat.
Say
You look so healthy!
Your body is so strong.
That food doesn't give us nutrients.

3. Normalize her experience

Remember puberty? While we laugh and think about those embarrassing middle school moments, living through them isn’t easy. In all its awkwardness, puberty is a hard time for young girls. Everything is new to them.

Puberty and menstruation are normal. And reinforcing normalizing messages about cramps, hair, period products, body size, and all the other new things puberty brings tells your girls that it is normal.

Simple sayings like “it happens to all women,” and “it’s not a big deal,” can make a young girl feel unseen, even though we don’t intend on that. These feelings can lead to loneliness and a false understanding that what is happening isn’t normal.
Instead of
It happens to everyone.
This isn't a big deal
You'll be fine
Say
How do you feel about what is happening?
This is a big change for you. It's ok to feel [any emotion]
I know it may be scary, what makes you feel better?

4. Notice what you say about other women

Commenting on other women’s bodies can have just as much of an impact on girls as talking about your own body. They’ll receive messages that women are “supposed” to look a certain way–even if it's positive comments about a woman's body.

Keep comments about other women focused on their strengths or talents. Saying something like “wow, look how flexible her body is when she moves,” instead of “she looks beautiful dancing,” are subtle differences that can deliver a large positive impact.

Resources for parents and caregivers

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