“Tell me the body part between your neck and knees that you love most.”
That was the command given to a room full of career women in a workshop my friend attended recently. My friend told me that she, and the rest of the attendees, struggled with this big-time. “Think about it,” she said, “You can’t pick your eyes or your smile or your ankles or feet—what do you pick?”
There is no question that today’s media content is informing our girls—and us—on a daily basis that they are not thin and sexy enough. The average fashion model, seen in ads and magazines, according to Radar programs, weighs 23% less than the average woman. Celebrities “tell all” about how they retain their size zero – ZERO! – bodies.
Less than two percent of girls and women in this country possess the skinny-with-full-breasts body type plastered throughout media. It’s horrifying but not surprising that seventy-eight percent of girls are unhappy with their bodies by age 17.
It is enough to make us parents want to chuck our technology out the window, pack our belongings, and move to Yakutat, Alaska (a Forbes-recommended destination for getting off the grid).
But there’s something we can do:
We can soak in the fact that what we model for our girls matters even more than what they see in media. Says Dr. Leslie Sim, clinical director of Mayo Clinic’s eating disorders program and a child psychologist, “Moms are probably the most important influence on a daughter’s body image.”
That’s the good news, and the bad news.
Over and over I hear girls in our program talking about how their moms hate their hips or refuse to wear bathing suits or don’t want to be in family pictures unless their bodies are hidden behind others. Girls pick up our every sigh when we try on jeans that are snug, every groan when we don’t like how our dress fits. And they hate hearing our disparaging remarks. It makes them feel sad because they love us, while also normalizing the act of trash-talking our bodies.
Here’s a way to turn things around quickly:
When she catches you checking out your reflection, make a point of saying something positive out loud, like,
“Look at these curvy, beautiful hips, will you?” or “I just love this belly that held you when I was pregnant” or “Thank you strong calves for getting me to Fed Ex before it closed!”
You can say your comment fierce or playful—but you have to say it with intention. Maybe even add,
“Hey, we are so lucky to get the awesome genes for big strong thighs [or insert other body part]!”
She may smile, laugh…or even roll her eyes and walk away. But she’s taking in that moment, and all the other moments you do this, and learning what it looks like to actually appreciate a normal, imperfect and wonderful body. The bonus: While doing this for her, you will likely experience a boost in your own confidence.
Now…what is your favorite body party between your neck and your knees?
Michelle Cove is the Executive Director of MEDIAGIRLS®, a nonprofit organization that teaches girls how to critique the way girls and women are portrayed in pop culture with an emphasis on creating empowering content.
She is also an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and author whose projects have been featured on numerous national platforms including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Katie Couric’s talk show “Katie,” “The Today Show,” The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
Visit www.mediagirls.org to learn more.