Family Magazine

Girls' Body Image Under Constant Scrutiny, Study Finds - Part 1 of 2

By Kenny Bodanis @KennyBodanis

 My 6-year-old daughter put on her new snowsuit yesterday. "It makes me look fat." she said.
Where does that language come from? Why does she care? Is she picking it up from school?

For anyone who has a daughter, language like this may not be surprising. A new study released by the Canadian Women's Foundation highlights how "relentless body shaming puts girls at risk".


The study "reveals the impact of the constant scrutiny of women's bodies has on girls aged 9 to 16".
Here are some of the findings:

  • 21% of Canadians know a girl who says she's fat. The number relating to boys is nearly one third lower.
  • 18% know a girl who says she's on a diet. That is more than triple the number for boys.
  • 17% know a girl who thinks she's ugly. Less than one third that number could think of a boy who felt similarly about himself.

Notice these facts have to do with how girl's feel about themselves, not how others view them.
The CWF says "We would like to believe society is changing their approach to women's and girls' body image. However, Lululemon Founder Chip Wilson's recent comments about how some women's bodies 'just don't actually work' with his company's pants, highlight how far we have to go."

As with most patterns and lessons absorbed by your children, learning confidence and resilience begins at home, with their parents.
Here are the CWF's Top 7 Do's and Don'ts which will nurture resilience in your daughter:

1.   DON’T bite your tongue. If people say things you disagree with or treat you in a disrespectful way, speak up. She needs to know it’s okay to stand up for herself, even at the risk of hurting someone’s feelings or causing disagreement.

2.   DON’T talk about how fat you look. Never criticize your appearance in front of her or make negative comments about the way she or other females look. Let her know you value people’s inner qualities - like curiosity and courage - more than outward appearance.

3.   DON’T put yourself down. Never make jokes about how incompetent you are, or make light of your own skills and abilities. She will learn to minimize her own accomplishments and may lower her future ambitions.

4.   DO let her lead. When choosing school or social activities, ask her opinion and provide genuine choice. Rather than saying, “Do you want to take dance or singing?” ask open-ended questions like, “What interests you these days?”

5.   DO let her take risks. Assuming her physical or mental health isn’t at stake, try not to be over-protective. Don’t rob her of the chance to be accountable for her own decisions and to learn from her own mistakes. If she fails, congratulate her for trying but don’t rescue her.

6.   DO validate her experience. If she has ‘negative’ feelings or is having problems with her friends, don’t say “It’s not that bad” or try to cheer her up. Listen with respect, acknowledge that things sound difficult, and ask if there is anything you can do. Don’t pressure her to talk when she doesn’t want to. Instead, find lighthearted ways to strengthen your connection with her, like going for a walk or bike ride. If she is having problems with friends, encourage her to think more critically about the situation; suggest she pretend she is watching the conflict on TV or in a movie; what motivations and solutions does she see? If she is in genuine distress, get outside help.

7.   DO provide fair and consistent structure. Presented in the spirit of love and caring, rules help young people feel protected and connected. Adolescents are less likely to engage in problem behaviours when adults know what they’re doing, and who they’re with. Set clear expectations for behaviour related to attending school, doing homework, sharing chores, and abiding by curfews.


Next week, I will post part two relating to this topic. It will include excerpts with the Director of the Girl's Fund at the Canadian Women's Foundation, Beth Malcom.
We'll talk more specifically about the girls outside this age range, and how to better correct patterns which may have already started to take hold.

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