My daughter’s elementary school recently brought in a speaker to discuss body image with the female students and to encourage positive attitudes around appearance. Apparently there have been some negative comments about girls’ bodies from the boys and even some body bashing from the girls. My daughter is in the 4th grade! What this should signal to readers is just how young body image issues start for girls.
The not so subtle messages that these kids are bombarded with, by both print and electronic media, are having a profound effect on their sense of themselves. This fact has never been more significant than it is now, in this age of constant streaming images. According to current data, 80 percent of woman are unhappy with their appearance and over 10 million have eating disorders. The statistics become staggering when you look at information from the National Eating Disorders Association. Among 1st through 3rd graders, 81% are fearful of becoming fat.
These are truly heartbreaking numbers, that foreshadow a lifetime of self-loathing, for these girls who are starting out their journey to adulthood with such negative ideas about their bodies. Eating disorders at their best lead to depression and the interruption of normal functioning, and at worst can be deadly. Of note is the fact that this is a problem that originated in the US, other cultures have begun to be plagued by these issues because of the infiltration of American media into their societies.
Parents and educators need to make every effort to combat these strong negative images. Children are always listening, and mothers in particular are strong role models for their daughters. Hearing a mom criticize her own body sets a negative tone and that dissatisfaction with self is contagious to daughters. As mothers we can create an environment of self-acceptance and set examples of healthy attitudes towards food and our bodies.
Schools and educators should keep an eye out for name-calling and bully behaviors that create shame in young girls. They, in conjunction with parents, must be mindful of the images that our young girls are exposed to on a regular basis. There needs to be a cultural shift, and it needs to happen soon. The well being of the next generation of women depends upon it.
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