Every day, our daughters are bombarded with lies.
They see these lies everywhere; they are never free of them. They see them on billboards, in TV ads, in movies, in magazines, in video games, and online. Especially online.
Every day, our daughters are presented with one acceptable definition of female beauty: white, tall, thin, large breasts.
This image is a lie: unrealistic, artificially constructed, and simply not true.
The lie also comes in the form of body-shaming messages from, well, just about everywhere. Just last month the twitter handle #fatshamingweek appeared, accompanied by the vicious comment: "Fat shaming is essential in creating a society of thin, beautiful women who are ashamed of being ugly." Fortunately, a woman in the U.K. immediately responded with #bodyconfidenceweek.
In our nation's quest to conquer obesity, we skip over the fact we can have any body shape and still be healthy -- but the focus is on being thin, thin, thin! Celebrity magazines gleefully publish full-page photos of movie stars who gain a few pounds or dare to display their cellulite on the beach. Teenage girls yearn to have legs so thin there is a noticeable "thigh gap."
The fallout from these lies is all around us.
According to the American Psychological Association, the portrayal of women in media has become so unrealistic and sexualized it is now damaging girl's mental health. In grade six, 36 per cent of girls in Canada say they are self-confident, but by grade 10 this has plummeted to only 14 per cent. In just one year, the number of girls in the U.S. aged 18 and younger who had breast implants nearly tripled. In one B.C. study, half of all the girls said they wished they were someone else.
A recent study from the Canadian Women's Foundation found that 21 per cent of Canadians know a girl who think she's fat and 17 per cent of Canadians know a girl who thinks she's ugly. I wonder how many of us know girls who believe these things, but never tell anyone.
We are raising a generation of girls who hate their bodies and therefore hate themselves. Unless we intervene, our daughters will grow up believing that whatever else they may accomplish, if they are not "beautiful" they will never be good enough.
Parents, it's time for us to speak up.
Given the size of the problem, we need big long-term solutions. If self-regulation won't work, then maybe we need legislation.
But we also need small, everyday actions. We can start by banning the word "fat" from our homes.
We can nurture resilience in our daughters and teach them that their most important assets are not external, but internal. We can help them to shift their focus from their outward appearance to their unique interests, whether they love books or basketball or baking or bugs.
We can demand that our schools offer a media literacy program, for both boys and girls. We can become more media literate ourselves, and share our new knowledge with our daughters. Most importantly, we can begin the slow process of learning to love our own bodies, because we too have believed the lie.
We can tell our daughters we adore our fabulously full hips, our gorgeous pillowy bellies, our sensational crooked noses. Maybe if we say it enough, we will start to believe it.
Ask any parent what they want most for their kids. Chances are, they'll say "For them to be healthy and happy." A girl who hates her body is neither.
Let's get louder than the lie. Our daughters are counting on us.
Also on HuffPost:
Choosing positive body image affirmations and repeating the to yourself twice a day can make a huge difference in the way you feel about yourself. Choose a phrase that particularly resonates with you, like "I am beautiful, inside and out" or "Every day in every way, I'm getting healthier and healthier," and repeat it to yourself 10 times aloud. Even if you don't believe it at first, your body-thinking will gradually start to become more and more positive as a result.
Are you a strawberry lover or an almond addict? Make a list of the healthy, nutrient-rich foods that you already know you enjoy and try to incorporate them into your diet more often. Once you have a bunch of healthy favorites in your repertoire, branch out and be adventurous! Try new fruits, veggies, and other high-nutrient foods, and make sure you always have some in the kitchen for when you get hungry. You might be surprised how easy it is to replace junk food with delicious, healthy snacks!
Don't make exercising a punishment -- it's no fun to dread going to the gym, and having a negative attitude will make it a whole lot harder to stick to a workout regime. Instead of slaving away on the treadmill, try to have a good time being active. Find the workout you enjoy the most, whether it's dancing, yoga, running outside, or tennis, and find a time to practice it every week. You can also increase your enjoyment by making exercising a social activity, and bring your friends along to try a fun new class!
Since stress is one of the main causes of depression and anxiety, managing your stress is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health. When the pressures of everyday life start making you feel anxious and overwhelmed, make a habit of taking a time-out until you calm down and feel better. Set aside some "me time" every week or even every day to unwind and do things that make you feel relaxed and calm, like writing in a journal, meditating, drawing, or even just reading for pleasure before bed.
Instead of fixating on your flaws, try to focus on your good qualities. Make a list of things you love about yourself to repeat to yourself when you start getting self-critical. Being aware of negative self-talk and choosing to focus on what you love about yourself will help you to accept your flaws rather than obsess over them.
Staying hydrated is hugely important to being healthy -- drinking water aids in metabolism and helps to detoxify the body, among numerous other health benefits. Make a new year's resolution in 2012 to actually drink eight glasses of water each day. Once you feel the difference in your skin and energy levels (dehydration leads to fatigue), you'll be sure to tote a reusable water bottle around with you wherever you go.
Getting more sleep will make you feel better about everything -- including your body. Lack of sleep can contribute to depression, anxiety, irritability, and stress, not to mention headaches and fatigue. No matter how much homework you need to power through, try to call it a night before 11 or 12 p.m. on school nights. It's pretty difficult to look or feel good when you're chronically sleep-deprived.
It's a whole lot harder to be positive when you're surrounded by people who don't make you feel good about yourself. Having friends who love and accept you for who you are makes it easier to accept yourself, and will in turn boost your body confidence. In 2012, ditch the gossip girls and stick with your true pals!
Although walking isn't a form of vigorous exercise, it's a wonderful, easy way to get moving and to relax at the same time. Walking has been shown to improve mood and manage weight, among other health benefits. So instead of driving to your friend's house, spend 15-30 minutes walking over and feel instantly less stressed and more energized.
After a late night study sesh, we know it's unthinkable not to grab a massive coffee the second you roll out of bed the next morning. But while it's totally fine to enjoy a cup of java once in a while, you shouldn't need coffee to wake up. Too much caffeine can lead to anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and an upset stomach. Try switching to black, green, or herbal tea -- or better yet, fresh orange juice -- and soon you'll find that you can be energized in the morning without your usual double shot of espresso.
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