It is no secret that we live in an age where finding the confidence to love ourselves entirely is becoming more and more difficult. But the one thing those of us over 30 will always have, is the memory of what the world was like before social media was around, and how the majority of images we see are manipulated and a distorted view of reality. But what happens to those younger than us, and particularly those pre 20’s, who know only a life with social media?
How do we help them to see that the world as they perceive it is not exactly as it seems. How can we encourage them to embrace who they are, and not pressurise themselves to conform to unrealistic expectations thrust in their faces via the media every day?
I have worked with young girls for almost 10 years now, and know all too well how things have changed in that short space of time. 6 year olds take provocative selfies, 8 year olds have Instagram, 12 year olds are sending each other sexually explicit photos and by 16, many girls are suffering with a whole host of serious mental health issues with no tools to help them deal with the way that they are feeling. How are we making a stand as older women who know better about how important self confidence is to ensure they love themselves completely?
Being a positive role model for young women has felt like my ‘calling’ in life. I feel so passionate about helping them understand that they are amazing and successful by how they live, and what the believe in. Who you are is what makes you beautiful and nothing can ever take that away from you. I often talk to my dance students about how they are feeling, and what experiences they are going through, and a large proportion of them are very open with me about what is going on in their lives. It is so apparent to me that we don’t really know the damage social media will have done to this generation until they are fully grown and in the working world. I fear for their mental health, and worry they might lose all sense of reality if we can not somehow gain control over how they see themselves. We must now embrace social media rather than try and fight it. It is part of modern life, and does have many ways it can be used positively. But what we must do is educate girls on what is real and what is not.
I know how important it is to feel ‘beautiful’, externally as well as internally. Most women would empathise with this I believe, however what I have learnt over the years is that feeling beautiful and looking beautiful are two very different things. You can look the image of perfection but if you don’t feel beautiful from the inside out, it makes no difference whatsoever, so what I like to work on is the inside out notion, that once we convince girls they are awesome, the outside part becomes of less importance and the beauty eventually radiates from within.
I have listed 9 things you can do that I believe can help us to raise self loving girls; girls who will in turn become powerful female role models to girls in the future. Some of these may seem small, but collectively they serve to make a big difference. We owe it to the sisterhood to know and practice these.
Be The Example
Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But how many times have you hidden from the camera in front of your girls (or young women you know) and said something awful about the way you look? The old saying ‘monkey see, monkey do’ is so true. If our girls see us hiding from the camera in shame of how we appear externally then we essentially give the message that how we look is of more importance than capturing the moment. Monitor the way you talk about yourself in general in front of impressionable young girls too. ‘I’m not wearing that, I look fat’, ‘I’d give anything to look like her’, ‘I can’t eat that because I am on a diet’. Remember children are born a blank canvas, and all their views on the world are shaped by the people who raise them, so if they are surrounded by unhealthy views of beauty and food, they will grow to think of them in a negative way. I have found with the young girls I teach, permission to be ‘weird and wonderful’ goes down really well. I am forever excusing myself for my unshaven armpits in dance class and proceeding to wave my arms in the air like I am proud, or being the one to pull a silly face in photos with them. Teenagers are forever wondering if it’s ‘just them who feels like that’, so when you make light of situations that might make them self conscious it gives them permission to ‘loosen up’. Particularly if they look up to you already, so be a shining example of beauty inside out for them.
Praise Talents and Qualities Over Appearance
This one is really hard to even realise we are doing sometimes. So often our girls might say to us, ‘x said that I’m fat and have a big nose’ for example. Our (well intentioned) response is often, ‘Darling, you are absolutely beautiful, your nose is lovely and you have a gorgeous figure’. Whilst this is not necessarily always a bad thing, what we unknowingly do is focus on the importance of the external, something that will be ever changing, and not always in our control. We ought to focus our talk and praise on talent and qualities. I always make a conscious effort to tell my dancing girls when I am proud of something they have achieved. Perhaps it’s the way they dealt with a fall out between friends, or maybe they have had an absolutely fantastic session. Dance is a great outlet, as it teaches girls to focus more on what their body can do rather than what it looks like, and I always drill that into my students as much as possible. When we are praised for something internal, something about our character, it gives us a sense of power and control. It is not something someone can criticise or take away from us, and this in turn raises our self esteem and confidence. We are aware of why we are here…our purpose, and focus on what we are great at.
Educate Them On Health and Fitness
If you haven’t heard of pro-anorexia websites, this may shock you, but there are websites out there aimed at young girls that promote anorexia posting hints and tips to combat starvation and achieve extreme weight loss. Websites consist of forums where young girls can chat to each other, and galleries of supposed ‘thinspiration’ to motivate them. In an age hell bent on being the smallest size achievable, it is now more important than ever to educate young girls on how the body works, and how to remain healthy. Many young girls have no education on what this will do to their internal organs, and bodily functions in later life, and convince themselves ‘they won’t care when they are older’. Eating a balanced diet, and being active is going to benefit their mental health greatly, so by teaching them how pleasurable it is to live an active and healthy lifestyle we can give them the courage and confidence to see these things and know that they are the wrong path for them.
Broaden Their Friendship Circle
One thing that has become very apparent to me in recent years is this sort of ‘gang’ culture where groups of girlfriends seemingly do the rounds leaving one member of their group out at a time, often sending nasty messages online and bitching leaving one person extremely isolated and feeling low. I have always been a big advocate for extra curricular activities. The most care free confident young girls I know take part in clubs outside of school regularly giving them lots of circles of friends. I also find that those who throw themselves into sport are much less active on social media (a few 15/16 year olds I know who play sport regularly don’t even have Facebook!), with their evenings often taken up playing for a team and engaging face to face like the ‘good old days!’. By encouraging this we can alleviate any stress when circles at school seemingly single one another out.
Make Them Aware of Gender Roles
Not that I am about to tell Evie, my 6 year old step daughter that the ‘knight in shining armour’ is usually just a dick in tin foil but…… be aware of the gender roles your kids are being exposed to! If you look closely at a lot of films, tv shows and books aimed at young girls, they all have the same premise. That men will save the day, and women will be a damsel in distress, well behaved and do as they are told. I honestly think I am the only woman on this planet who would grab Christian Grey by the balls and tell him if he ever spoke to me like that again I’d have them off! haha
On a serious note, there are a lot of things out there influencing the way boys view girls, and approach girls, such as pornography and video games, and this will also have an effect on young girls too as they are exposed to the same things. Encourage your girls to be open with you. One particular video game requires the player to pick up a prostitute, have sex with her and then kill her to take back their money. This game is one of the most mainstream games played by young boys, and sends a frightening message about how sex should be seen. Pornography is freely available on the internet and most inquisitive young boys and girls will have explored it at some point. Pornography tends to consist of unrealistic expectations of how a naked body should appear, and is likely to give young girls hang ups about their own body. It is also a heavily male dominated industry meaning a heavy focus on ‘women pleasing men’ once again.
Remember when you were younger? If you wanted to do something your parents didn’t approve of, you would just do it behind their back right? So encourage your girls to know that it’s ok to talk openly about gender roles and how they feel about relationships, sexual consent and expectations. Whatever you do, DO NOT FREAK OUT! It’s a sure fire way to shut your girls off for good. Play it cool, and act like you totally expected to be told they just received a ‘dick pic’ on Snapchat and don’t know if they should reply!
The truth is, girls today are not only having sexual images thrown their way from other young boys and girls who know no better, but it is rife in the media, with music videos of those they aspire to be being highly sexualised, along with Instagram and the rest! We can not stop that. All we can do is provide an open comforting relationship as parents/role models to encourage them to speak up if something they don’t feel comfortable with occurs. I call this #keepitcool. Nobody likes a stress head…especially a teenager who stresses enough for us all! To them, grown ups are weird aliens who’ve never seen a penis in real life and don’t get sex. It’s only when we grow up we realise they were just the same as us.
Watch Your Words
This one is a bit like my first point, however it relates to how we talk of others. It sounds absurd, but the amount of times I’ve seen adults counteract the hurt that’s been thrown their way by responding with an equally negative and damaging insult is too many to count. ‘Oh well, she needs to take a look in the mirror before she starts insulting me’. If someone hurts you, or hurts your children, try to praise yourself, or praise them on what is wonderful about them rather than shoot from the hip with a spiteful comment in return. Modelling this praising behaviour will teach your girls that negativity and retaliation is not the answer. Model acceptance, don’t compare and agree to disagree. Our view of the world is ours and ours alone, and we must not raise girls to force this on others. I would however, in this paragraph like to advise, encouraging her to have a voice; a healthy opinion that she understands is her view and is open for discussion. Sometimes it is really helpful for young girls development if we allow them to reach conclusions alone via asking open questions about how they would solve a situation, or discussing what they think is fair/right and why? After all, we want young girls to make the right decisions when we are not there to guide them, so encouraging this voice gives them the opportunity to explore ideas and therefore have the confidence and self belief to know what is right.
This one is short and sweet but ABSOLUTELY imperative! Take them to see the documentary Embrace. There are screenings still happening all over the UK, and it is worth the road trip and a girls day out if there is not one in your local town. Better still, host your own! Link below to see viewings coming up soon.
Yes Mum – Teen
Another short and sweet reference, but check out the YES MUM TEEN affirmation cards. One small prompt to start everyday to keep by their bedside table. We all know just one positive thought can change the day. A great, affordable tool to give them. Link below.
LOVE YOURSELF LEAN
Finally, connect them up to the lean bean community. I have a wide range of teens already using the journal each day and some who just follow the blogs and social media. As a rule we need to teach them that if someones account doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, click UNFOLLOW right away!