27 fathers and their middle school aged daughters met for a three-day retreat recently, and the dads left shocked at their “little girl’s” revelations. They had no idea of the magnitude of the pressures the girls were facing, especially when it came to body image. Here is what the girls shared with their dads.
First notice how many different pressures the girls said they were facing: getting perfect grades, social stresses, appearance concerns, keeping up with social media, trying to fit in and act more mature than they were, peer pressure, and even worries about college. The dads were most amazed that their girls were so stressed about picking, being accepted into, succeeding at, and handling the pressures of college and their long-term futures.
Next came the list of body parts these girls judged negatively about themselves. The list is extensive, as it always is in my experience, and sadly it’s already engrained in their minds by ages 10-12 years that they are not good enough and need to change their appearance. High school girls typically identify every body part you can think of, from ear lobes to finger nails to buttocks.
The last thing I had the girls write down was ways they wished they were different, especially as they compared themselves to their peers. Their ‘ER list included their desire to be smarter, skinnier, prettier, cooler, braver, as well as more popular, talented, creative, stylish, confident, and mature. A few qualities that stood out to me were wanting to be less sensitive, emotional, and quirky, and having more followers on social media and to be happier. Having these judgments swirling around their brain each day causes girls to feel discouraged, less than, depressed, anxious, and unhappy.
The dads left the weekend retreat more aware of what their girls are facing each and every day. I hope they will be more sensitive when their daughters seem quiet, demand space and alone time, appear unsettled, or start riding an emotional roller coaster. It’s invaluable when fathers acknowledge girls for qualities that have nothing to do with their looks. They can also teach girls the cost to them any time they compare themselves to others to assess their worth. Girls will always find someone who in their minds is prettier, smarter, and more talented, leaving them forever discouraged.
Use these lists to open up a dialogue with your daughter about how they feel about themselves and about the pressures they are experiencing. Listen, empathize, and then help them problem-solve ways to stay out of this stinking thinking.