Bonnie, 7, looked at a photo of herself and her older sister and stated, “Abby is so pretty, and I’m so fat and ugly.” It floored her mother, who had tried so hard to be sensitive when it came to talk about bodies, appearance, and weight. The origin of Bonnie’s worries was found in a comment made in kindergarten by one of the popular girls who told her in front of a group of peers that she was “the ugliest and fattest girl in the class.” Bonnie took it to heart.
Bonnie is not alone when it comes to girls worrying about their weight, with 80% of 10 years old children being afraid of being fat. Girls at my camp this summer made a long list of numbers they obsess over, including weight, BMI, bra size, dress and jean size, calories, grams of fat and carbs, and now even the number of steps they walk each day. But the number on the scale still creates the most angst.
It’s imperative that we guide girls to focus on qualities that really matter instead of unrealistic standards imposed upon them by the culture. Our campers got feedback from their peers about how they were beautiful inside and out, stating qualities like being compassionate, brave, powerful, an out-of-the-box thinker, in integrity, kind, and wise. This helped them to see beyond their narrower and limiting view of themselves. I also showed them videos about defining themselves for more than their looks.
Finally, I actually had the girls write a breakup letter to their scale as though they were ending a long-term, unhealthy relationship. And the coup de gras for them deciding they were NOT going to be defined by a number was having each girl smash an actual scale with a hammer as they loudly and proudly proclaimed a new mantra about loving their body. It was exhilarating and freeing.
Consciously acknowledge girls for intrinsic qualities; the ones we know are valuable as they go through life. We are always mirrors for our daughters, so reflect back to them what’s really important.