As a mother of a nine year old daughter, Melanie from South Woodfood has noticed how unrealistic beauty standards are slowly but surely shaping her daughter’s reflection of herself. In her guest blog, Melanie discusses why it’s so important that we promote real people as role models for young girls to help them develop healthy self-esteem and positive body image.
I remember spending hours in front of the mirror as a teenager, back combing my fringe that seemed to get higher with each day. I wanted to wear make-up, but wasn’t allowed to until I was 16 years old. I had the usual worries of whether I was pretty enough or if I was too tall. What I don’t remember though (partly because social media was nowhere to be seen at this point) is being bombarded with selfie images, unrealistic images of painfully thin models and the wonders of Youtube videos of how you should live your life.
My daughter is nine years old and is already standing in front of the mirror, like I was when I was about 15 years old, worrying about her hair. She hates the fact that she has to wear glasses and thinks every other girl in her class is prettier than her. There have been times when she has said that she feels fat and that her tummy sticks out. I look at her and see beauty, but somehow she does not see this herself. Insecurities are normal for girls, I get this, but at nine years old? Surely at this age, girls should be carefree and without worries about their appearance?
I have discussed my worries with my husband and asked him to continue giving compliments to my daughter, hoping she will believe that she is beautiful because that is what she hears from us. But is this enough?
One negative comment from a peer can be devastating for a young girl. How would it be if we were all kinder to each other? Empowering each other to love ourselves and to believe in ourselves?
We are surrounded with an ideal of what perfection is in the media. TV programmes are designed to portray what popular girl should look like, even those for children who are just nine years old. We do not expose our children to any adult TV or magazines, yet you cannot send your child out with blinkers on and wrapped in cotton wool. Even as women we look at magazines and see perfectly airbrushed celebrities and we aspire to look like them, so it is no wonder our girls are falling into the same trap.
I truly believe that in order for girls to truly love themselves and have healthy self-esteem, we need to re-evaluate as a society the type of female role models we are promoting to young girls. How are we measuring success? It has to go beyond what we look like. We need to teach girls that it is ok to care for ourselves, but that this should not consume all of our thoughts and feelings and should definitely not be a marker for success.
Melanie Manning is the Director of FREEDOM 2 a self-development programme for girls who are survivors of human trafficking or those who are vulnerable to trafficking, such as girls in the care system.