Body Image Tips to Raise Healthy, Confident Daughters

Dr. Robyn Silverman

September is an amazing month for action. You can smell it in the air. Back to work.  Back to school.  Back to…snarky body-bashing comments from “friends,” coworkers, and the girl next door who, as it turns out, isn’t that nice after all.

What are we doing? It’s time to get it together.  If women can’t be nice to each other, who the heck are we all supposed to lean on?  Come on.  Men are…men.  We love them but they don’t understand the plight of women and girls like…well, other women and girls!

I know next month is national Love Your Body Day– in fact, I will be posting an amazing interview with Love Your Body Day event planner, Chenese Lewis this week. But do we really need to wait to love our bodies?  Do we really need to wait to give our friends, colleagues, and family members a compliment, a smile, and a quick “you go girl” to help them feel like they are valuable, worthwhile, and an asset to themselves and society? Yes, I mean despite their weight.  Who cares?  No woman or girl is worth more when they weigh less.  We need to fight back.

Here are some quick tips for parents and yes, other women, to help inspire our girls to hone those assets and reach their potential.  Don’t wait for Love Your Body Day.  Do it now. How about teaching that to your daughter or some other girl today?


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Dora Makeover another Blow to Girl’s Body Image?

dora the explorersil_dora_newdora the explorer as a tween

Dora too Modelesque to Be a Girl’s Role Model?

Dr. Robyn Silverman


Many parents and my fellow bloggers were feeling a bit queasy when Mattel released their controversial silhouette on March 6th. We couldn’t help but wonder if Dora was becoming the new Diva– the new Bratz, or the new Lindsey Lohan or Miley Cyrus Look-a-like. There was worry that she could compromise body image, threaten her ability to empower our powerful girls, and stomp on their confidence. There was even a petition…that I was ready and willing to sign as soon as I got to see the full Dora (as of March 8th over 2000 signed).

But parents and bloggers are changing their tune for this toon.

Dora isn’t wearing a micro-mini as originally feared, but rather, a long shirt over leggings. How nice of Mattel to get so much extra media play before the reveal– only to dish out the final reveal with a heaping helping of crow for all those who pointed fingers. Not nice. Smart marketing. But not nice at all.

strawberry shortcake

We are programmed to criticize, aren’t we? But as parents, we are sensitive to media influence on our children as well as change that can affect how our children think and feel about themselves. And we should. And, well, nobody likes change. Remember how they changed Strawberry Shortcake from a pudgy, cat-carrying kid to a slimmed-down tween and that was tough. Perhaps something to do with nostalgia? Leaving well enough alone? Or, as a body image specialist, we can say that it’s also about taking down that belly fat and strapping on some shape-skimming outfit can have a negative effect on our girls. Somehow “freshening up” means going on a diet these days and of course, getting a little nip-tuck.

Well, back to our explorer in question. Well, she’s not a Sesame Street Walker as we might have assumed. But there are some issues. She’s traded in her exploring boots for ballet slippers and her practical exploring shorts for a fashionable frock and leggings– what does that mean? Well, no more jungle explorations. Which hurts. I kind of liked how Dora wasn’t afraid to get dirty while traipsing along with her jungle friends. She lost her stocky toddler-like body and traded it in for a stream-line look. A distinct lack of Latin curves is obvious. Did you really expect them to be included?

And yes, she’s pink-afied. And appears to be wearing some kind of lip gloss or lipstick. Not so great. And let’s not forget that on her interactive computer games, girls can change her eye color and hair– which threatens her Latina roots once again. Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Packaging Girlhood and co-founder of Hardy Girls, Healthy Women in Waterville, Maine, and a person who I admire and appreciate, questions, “why change her appearance at all? Why is appearance so important?” Exactly. As we’ve seen all over this blog, appearance is highly praised and highly criticized.  It has to be just right.

The good thing is that Mattel states that Dora “will expand into the world of solving mysteries that have overt and relatable pro-social themes — like volunteerism, water conservation, or planting trees to help the environment.” Yeah, we like that. That’s what we stress for Powerful Words— and any role model doing that is helpful.

Well, what do you think? Sell out or upgrade? Sign of despair or sign of the times?

Let us have your opinion.

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No Wonder Girls Are Confused: Body Image and Jennifer Love Hewitt

Why Girls are Confused…again: Body Size Messages

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

We know we’re constantly bombarded with photos indirectly suggesting to women and girls that “thin is in and thin is beautiful (and fat is NOT).” Messages accompany these photos that tell us 51 ways to lose weight, tone up, get rid of cellulite, and be attractive. No wonder why so many girls (and boys) suffer from poor body image, eating disorders, scary eating practices, too much pressure, and low self confidence.

We’re always thrilled to see examples of positive role models and celebrities telling us that it’s all a bunch of phony baloney and yet, they’re often smooshed between the one celebrity who has lost another 14 pounds and another top model’s diet plan.

Of course we still try to tell girls and women that they are beautiful the way they are…which can be confusing given the overwhelming proof otherwise.

Well, here’s just one more reason why our girls (and their Mothers) can get confused:

On the beach as compared to her Hanes Ad

On the beach as compared to her Hanes Ad

(1) Jennifer Love Hewitt made quite a statement on behalf of curvy women everywhere last December when she was criticized for her “Oh So NOT size 0 body” while away celebrating with her fiancé in Hawaii. She was a size 2. Yes, that’s right…very “fat.”

“This is the last time I will address this subject. “I’ve sat by in silence for a long time now about the way women’s bodies are constantly scrutinized. “To set the record straight, I’m not upset for me, but for all of the girls out there that are struggling with their body image. “A size 2 is not fat! Nor will it ever be. And being a size 0 doesn’t make you beautiful. I know what I look like, and so do my friends and family. “And like all women out there should, I love my body.”To all girls with butts, boobs, hips and a waist, put on a bikini – put it on and stay strong

However, what was the headline on the latest Us Weekly?

Jennifer Love Hewitt Exclusive: Her Exact Diet and Workout Plan 18 Pounds in Ten Weeks!

Hmmmm. This is definitely NOT the same message, is it?

Message 1 says: People are critical of girls who are not a size 0, even if they’re just a size 2. If you put on any weight at all, people will take pictures of you, make fun of you, talk about you, and criticize your self control and appearance. But Jennifer Love Hewitt is lashing out and telling these nasty people what she thinks of them…so girls who deviate from the perceived “ideal” size 0 are OK but…

Message #2 says: Not so fast. Maybe a size 2 was too big? If a size 2 woman “needs to” lose 18 pounds…how much do other girls and women need to lose? Do I need lipo?

Us Weekly "Weight Winner" feels great now that she

Us Weekly "Weight Winner" feels great now that she's lost 18 pounds off her 5'3" frame despite having said that she didn't need to lose weight in December

Folks, please use this story as a jumping off point to talk about body image and body confidence with any children, teens, or young adults you love. In addition, in order to keep them from getting confused:

  1. Ensure them that people come in all shapes and sizes: What’s important is that we make healthy choices, not that we’re a size 0.

  2. Don’t allow the media to tell you or your family what they’re supposed to look like: Help your children redefine attractiveness in your home. Expose them to role models of all shapes and sizes.

  3. Regulate the media that enters your home: Turn on the TV, open a magazine, put connect to the internet , your family will be bombarded with images of impossible thin girls and women. Filter some of the negative stuff out as best you can and be sure to talk about what you see when it finds it’s way into your living room. It’s not about “blocking” everything out but rather, teaching your children how to process the information responsibly and with perspective.

  4. Stop the comparisons with thin celebs: What you and your family sees on TV or in the magazines is not the “real world” and often is simply…”not real.” To compare your body type and size with Paris Hilton is about as scientific as comparing it with Strawberry Shortcake.

  5. Convey your values and pump up their body-loving activities: Be sure that your children know your that your values have more to do with respect, tolerance, gratitude, and citizenship than surface looks and liposuction. Surround your children with like-minded individuals and have them engage in activities that help them see the fun of moving a healthy body not obsessing with how it looks in a pair of jeans.

  6. Walk Your Bosy Positive Talk: As parents, we can’t just talk about the importance of a healthy body image, we must have on ourselves. Catch yourself when you start to berate your own body or make comments about your spouse or friends. Your children are listening and always affected by how you perceive yourself and your body.

    Have a Powerful Weekend!

Parents Confused About Healthy and Thin Dilemma

“Parents face a complicated situation,” Brownell says. “They have to promote healthy weight, but they also don’t want to change children into diet-crazed fanatics.”

There was a great article in Time Magazine regarding the much discussed “thin and happy” vs. “fat and unhealthy” medical/media beef. A must read.

The dilemma is born due to the connection, albeit societal, between fat=unhealthy=unhappy and thin=healthy=happy. Many are reluctant to admit that people who don’t fit the thin ideal can actually be healthy and happy. Of course, this creates havoc on our children and their sense of body confidence.

The dilemma is further fueled by research determined to prove that thin does indeed equal happy and healthy. Although some has provided other perspectives:

Reports on adults in similar situations have conflicted. Since the 1970s, doctors at the nonprofit Cooper Institute in Dallas have gathered data from more than 100,000 patients who have been weighed, measured and made to run on treadmills while their vital signs are monitored. “We’ve long concluded that people who are overweight and active can be healthier than those who are thin but sedentary,” says Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the institute’s director. “There’s no reason to believe that conclusion doesn’t apply to our children too.”

Much of the overweight and obesity research reiterates that medically overweight and obese children are doomed to medical and social problems. Some celebs, such as Nikki Blonsky and Queen Latifah provide visual confirmation otherwise. But most people are quick to point out the Chris Farleys and Kirstie Alleys of the world– those who were overweight and unhealthy.  And of course, they’re also quick to highlight the buff bods of the music and movie world in magazines and media all over.

In this article, Nikki Blonsky is quick to point out that she is into fitness– something Latifah has also expressed. They are also happy and successful, something research continually tells us is more and more improbable as children and adults deviate more and more from the thin ideal.

So what do you think? Does thin=healthy=happy? Does fat=unhealthy=unhealthy? Or are other configurations alive and well? Let’s start a discussion. Tell us what you think.

Photo creds: PussyCat Dolls, Matt Sayles / AP

This One’s For You– Gals! Branding Yogurt for Women

This Youtube, featured on colleague, Kate Harding’s blog, made me laugh so hard I just needed to share it with all of you.

As you know, branding and advertising is a huge part of our culture. We have been made painfully aware of the stereotyping, photo retouching, skinny model using world of press that often make girls and women feel that they must go out immediately and squeeze into a tiny pair of jeans of hack off a leg trying. But there are other types of marketing that can be a little sneakier– that make women feel like we just have to go out and buy diet food after watching daytime TV…

So grab your favorite flavor and get ready to laugh:

No Diet or botox needed: How Does Photo- Retouching Work?

Media uses photo retouching for many reasons; changing color, lighting, and feel of pictures. Editors can put make-up on, take clothes away, thin out, bulk up, or completely change the model in the photo. Which leads to the questions; is it ever OK to look like yourself? Can real teens every look as good as the ones seen in the pages of the magazines? Are extreme body measures “necessary” to keep up with the likes of the PussyCat Dolls?

Sometimes it makes young girls look older, more mature, and sexualized:

Sometimes it’s used to make people better fit the “thin ideal.”

WARNING: This Video Shows a Woman’s Nude Bottom. For mature audiences only.

Sometimes it’s used to do a little of each.

WEIGH IN: What do you think– has media gone too far or should we always retouch in an attempt to appeal to the majority, adhere to societal standards, and “Look our best?”

What kind of media makes an impact on girls’ body image?

Do magazine diet articles make an impact on girls’ body image?

In a 2007 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers from the University of Minnesota suggest that when teen girls read articles about diet and weight loss, it could have unhealthy consequences years later.

Magazines feature impossibly thin supermodels next to “back-to-school” diet plans and tips for getting your body into “bikini-bearing” shape. Cover headlines scream; “50 Shortcuts to a Sexier Body” (Glamour) or “6 Ways to Thin — Easy Diets That Really Work” (Allure)

Articles might say “Embrace your curves” but the retouched photos of ultra thin models tell a different story. Suffice to say, some advertisers have their hands in more than one cookie jar.

Who was in the study? 2,516 middle school students that were surveyed, weighed and measures in 1999 and again in 2004. About 55% were girls.

The Scoop: Adolescent girls who frequently read magazine articles that featured articles about dieting were more likely five years later to engage in extreme weight-loss practices such as vomiting than girls who never read such articles. This result was not influenced by whether the girls were considered “overweight” by medical standards or if the girls believed weight to be important to them.

Middle school girls who read articles about dieting (compared to those who did not read such articles) were twice as likely to try to lose weight 5 years later by fasting or smoking cigarettes. These girls were also three times more likely to use extreme weight loss practices such as taking laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.

“Forty-one percent of adolescent females report that magazines are their most important source of information on dieting and health, and 61 percent of adolescent females read at least one fashion magazine regularly,” –Eric Stice, Ph.D

The problem: Girls are being duped, but they don’t know it. Studies show that the average fashion model is much taller than the average woman—but weighs about 23% (one-fifth) less. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, while the average woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 140 pounds, the average model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds. On top of already being think, advertisers and publishers use retouching techniques to make models seem even thinner and taller.

Note: Other studies have found that 69% of girls feel that magazine models influence their idea of the perfect shape (Field et al). Other statistics show similar body image problems, such as

the modeling industry standards suggest women should have waists no larger than 25″ and hips no larger than 35 1/2 inches, they also recommend measurements of 34-24-34;

women’s magazines have 10.5 times more ads and articles about weight loss then do men’s magazines;

60%+ of college students feel worse after reading magazines;

changes found in magazines between 1970 and 1990 include increase emphasis on fitness for attractiveness and a decrease in the model hip to waist ratio (becoming less curvy);

1 out of every 3.8 commercials sends a message about attractiveness;

the average person sees between 400-600 ads per day;

7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV

Do music video models make an impact on girls’ body image?

Researchers from the University of Sussex, leader by Dr Helga Dittmar, found that the use of ultra-thin models in music videos can lead girls to develop poor body image. The article was published in the Journal of Body Image.

Who was in the study? 87 girls ages 16-19 years were put in random groups. A third watched music videos featuring the Pussycat Dolls and Girls Aloud, known for being thin and attractive. Another third listened but did not watch the music videos. The final groups was asked only to learn a list of neutral words. All three groups were asked questions that asked them to recall what they heard or watched. Answers measured levels of self esteem, body satisfaction and mood.

The Scoop: After just 10 minutes of exposure, the researchers found that the groups that had watched the music videos with the thin, attractive stars, exhibited the largest increase in body dissatisfaction in comparison to those who simply listed to the songs of completed the memory task with the neutral words. In addition, and perhaps the most troubling, it did not matter whether the girls had high or low self esteem to begin with—they were all equally affected.

The Problem: Girls look to these music video icons as what they should aspire to be. Seeing very thin celebrities can make the girls feel “less then” and make them wonder how they can ever look like their heroes. Girls are tending towards dieting, poor eating, and other more extreme weight loss behaviors.

Media is all around us. We see it everyday even when we don’t seek it out. The portrayal of very thin models, actresses, singers, and entertainers does indeed have an impact on the ways girls see themselves and their bodies.

Let’s help them-