A recent Glamour magazine survey revealed that a shocking 97% of women polled think hurtful thoughts about themselves on a daily basis – some up to 100 times a day. The Dove Real Truth about Beauty campaign adds even more disheartening data. Their most recent statistics show that only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. Even more disturbing: only 11% of girls globally are comfortable using the word beautiful to describethemselves.
So, why should we care about these statistics? Why is this disturbing?
Because these young girls are the women of tomorrow – women who may not reach their full potential due to something as tragic as thinking negatively about their looks - women who might suffer with eating disorders and emotional health problems because they don’t believe their outside measures up to the demands of the world.
Feeling undesirable – no matter how superficial it may seem - can be debilitating.
As adult women – as mothers, teachers, and friends – we can (and should) touch the hearts of young girls and influence them to grow in a positive direction. Here are a few tips for how to make a difference in the lives of the teen girls in your life:
1. Be the change. If we find ourselves battling negative self-talk regularly, it will be difficult to lead others into the battle-free zone. It is so important to make an honest assessment of our own thoughts and actions and then to take the steps necessary toward health and wholeness. Children, and especially teens, are master hypocrite detectors. If we don’t walk what we talk, we’ve lost them. This isn’t to say that we must be perfect before we ever try to help others, but we must be honest with where we truly are and be actively moving toward victory and freedom of our own.
2. Tear down the walls. People who are hurting often build up walls of self-protection around their hearts in order to avoid future pain. This is true of young girls, as well. Often they’ve dealt with the cruelty of their peers long before the evidence is visible to us. The bad news about these walls is that, though they seem to keep negative stuff out, they can also keep the positive things out. We must create trust with the young girls we are trying to influence because if they trust us in general, they will be more likely to trust what we have to say about their value, worth, and true beauty. So, how do we tear down walls? The best way is by living a lifestyle of humility and mutual respect. When we blow it in life, we must be quick to admit our own failures. If we’ve done something hurtful, we must be humble enough to ask for forgiveness. These simple things make young people feel safe. They see that it’s not the “perfect” versus the“imperfect.” Rather, they will see we’re all in this together – some of us are just older and a little further down the road, and this can help to create a feeling of security in the relationship.
3. Have a good talk. Once you are being honest about your own state, and if you’ve created an environment of safety in your relationship, open up the conversation about self-image and body issues. Simply discussing how we feel often takes us a long way toward feeling better. Talk about how unrealistic some of the images we see in the media can be. Take some time to look at sites like Dove which show video clips of how Photo Shop works on models and shows statistics about how most women and girls feel. Looking at facts like these and discussing truth can be light-switch moments for young girls. When they see that they are not alone in the battle, and when they see others fighting against the unrealistic expectations of our culture, they may feel empowered to turn their own backs on the negativity.
4. Change the conversation. Our culture is so saturated with body image talk that it’s nearly impossible to avoid. Just listen to what people around you are talking about for a couple days. It’s so often about how much people weigh, or what new diet they’re trying. No wonder young girls are suffering with faulty views of what’s truly important. We, however, can do our part to change the topic of discussion. Try to stop yourself when you start talking about your weight (or anyone else’s for that matter). Try to stop talking so much about food choices, calories, fat grams, etc.
It’s not wrong to talk about being healthy, of course, but obsessing on things that relate only to outward appearance can be damaging. Instead, talk about things that have lasting value. Applaud the good character or skills and talents you see in the young girls in your life (and for that matter, the women of any age in your life). Affirm the good you see, including (but not emphasizing) physical characteristics that are beautiful. Try saying“You ARE so pretty,” rather than “You LOOK pretty.”This relates more to the actual being of the girl rather than the physical appearance. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful and look our best. Balance is the key, and right now the focus in our world is far too much on outward appearance.