Tuesday, 28 February 2017

"I'm a strong, tough, mighty girl": Teaching my daughter to value her body

It's nearly a year ago now, but I still remember it very clearly. We were walking home from nursery with friends and Girl Child was racing ahead. She called back to us, "I'm a strong, tough, mighty girl!"

I smiled. It's a phrase I'd said to her many a time. And now she'd internalised it. She believes that her body is strong and powerful.

Confidence was the main thing I wanted to instill in my daughter, right from an early age. I have struggled with self esteem since my childhood, so I wanted her to be self-assured. I especially wanted her to be confident with regards to her body image, something I had never been in my youth. Something, apparently, many girls and young women aren't today.

The Children's Society recently published the Good Childhood Report 2016, in which they found that girls' happiness is declining. 1 in 7 girls aged 10-15 are unhappy with their lives. And it seems body image is a big part of that: a third of girls in that age range are unhappy with their appearance.

Graphic supplied by The Children's Society

The Children's Society are appealing for people to stand up for girls, to improve their well-being. They are calling on the government to ensure access to mental health and well-being services in schools and colleges to improve the happiness of all children in the UK. This would be fantastic and is much needed, but we also need to work as a society to value children, especially girls, for who they are and not what they look like.

Graphic supplied by The Children's Society

Girl Child is still only 5, but I believe self esteem and a healthy body image are established far before the age of 10. It makes me sad to think so many girls and young women are unhappy with the way they look. I don't want that for my daughter, so I'm doing everything I can now to teach her to value herself and her body.

So how am I standing up for my daughter? Do I just tell her that she's beautiful to establish a positive body image while she's still young?

Well, I do tell her she's beautiful. But I emphasise her other great qualities - her kindness, her work ethic, and, yes, her strength. I want her to regard her body not as an ornament but as a tool. I want her to value her capabilities over her appearance. I encourage her to take care of herself, not so she looks 'good' but so she is fit and healthy. I also encourage her to be active, to enjoy sports and physical activity so she can take pride in what her body can do.

I worry that this is not enough. I see her internalising messages about the need to be 'pretty' that she's picking up from wider society and it makes me anxious. As much as I stand up for her, I know that as she gets older my voice will be drowned out by that of the media and her peers. Which is why I think it is important for us all to stand up for girls now - so that we can change the script and raise a generation of healthy, happy women who feel confident in themselves and content in their lives.

For more information on the work of The Children's Society, check out their website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This post was written voluntarily in support of The Children's Society, however all words, views and thoughts are my own.