Children Taught to Body Shame – When will it STOP???
As a Mum to two daughters, I am slightly nervous of my girls growing up. For fear of sounding incredibly old when I say this, things have changed a LOT since I was a girl. I didn’t wear make up until the end of senior school, didn’t see a hair straightener till I was 15, and the embarrassing photographs of me wearing a shell suit were only seen when my Mum bought out the albums to show my first boyfriend. The amount of pressure on young children and teenagers, both male and female these days is incredible, with far more of an expectation for children to look and act in a certain way. Along with the rise of social media, Snapchat and Instagram filters, has come an increased focus on body image and the creation of an ‘ideal’ look that children should aspire to. And I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.
Despite not being body confident in the slightest (I am not at all comfortable with my post baby body), I have recently made a concise effort to be body positive around my daughter, avoiding words such as ‘fat’ and not highlighting my insecurities such as stretch marks or my ‘jelly belly’.
If Erin says I am beautiful, I simply say thank you.
If she asks about my scars or my wrinkles, I explain to her that I earned them through becoming a mother, and that wrinkles are formed from smiling, which means I have clearly had a happy and fun life so far. I want to teach her that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and remove the perception that you need to look a certain way to be happy.
Whilst Erin loves Disney Princesses, I work hard to reinforce the message that these characters are not real. Even at four, Erin understands that her favourite characters such as Elsa and Moana are make believe, and more ‘fancy dress’ than an image to aspire to. Whilst the Disney Princesses Erin loves most are of course generally slim, with huge bambi eyes and flawless skin, the message has never been explicitly about their body, and with more recent releases, the focus has been more on their personal characteristics such as bravery, pride or inner strength. For that reason, I have no issue with her watching these films.
However, more recently the media appear to be going down a slippery slope towards body shaming, and two particular things have left me open mouthed in shock this month.
Firstly – the remake of the Snow White movie – a new Korean produced animated film featuring the voice of Chloe Moretz shared the message “What if Snow White was no longer beautiful and the 7 dwarfs not so short! – the beautiful tall slender snow white has been displaced by a slightly shorter character with a fuller figure. The message behind this for young children – young girls in particular, is horrific. They are explicitly inferring that tall and slim = beautiful and that the opposite is ugly, and it made my blood boil. Whilst Disney had similar complaints about Inside Out, (with Joy being slim, and Sadness being shorter and carrying more weight), this Snow White example is FAR more blatant, and quite frankly I am appalled that it got approved by a team of influencers.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I have today read about a new app called Princess Plastic Surgery – targeted specifically as girls as young as 8 or 9. This app, featuring animated princess characters that my daughter would instantly be drawn to, allows users to change the face of their princess, including replacing a large and as such insinuated ‘unattractive’ nose for a smaller slimmer one. This isn’t simply changing a hair colour, or popping on make up – a far more innocent and typical childhood game – but actually insinuating that if your nose isn’t ‘perfect’ you should change it, by having a invasive and expensive medical procedure. Since when was that something for children to aspire to???
Is it any wonder that more children are suffering from anxiety, depression and low self esteem than ever before, and that calls to Childline regarding body image have gone up by 17%??? Nuffield Council are now calling for such games to be removed from the internet, and I for one, couldn’t agree more.
I think more needs to be done to teach children that quite simply there is no one ideal body image, and focus more on ensuring our children are happy and healthy. By all means I will encourage healthy eating, exercise and pride in her appearance, but it’s about time these negative body shaming messages were stopped once and for all.
How do you promote positive body image in your children?