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Encourage healthy body image in girls

With record numbers developing eating disorders and endless pressure for ‘perfect’ bodies, how do we help our daughters – and ourselves – to accept our bodies?

by Suzy Walker

healthy body image, eating disorders

The pressure for girls to be slim has never been greater – or started earlier. A shocking 70 per cent of seven-year-olds say they want to be thinner, reports Tanith Carey in her book, Girls Uninterrupted – and a quarter of 10-year-olds have been on a diet.

So how do we encourage our daughters – and ourselves – to accept our bodies?

  • Don’t comment on or judge women on their looks. ‘Praise their strength or personalities instead,’ says Carey.
  • If your child is falling for the myth of celebrity perfection, seek out online images of pics pre- and post-airbrushing.
  • Some reassurance is necessary. ‘The women I spoke to whose parents never commented on their appearance filled the vacuum this created by assuming they were ugly,’ Carey points out.
  • Be an alternative voice. ‘Girls are being raised in a hypercritical culture and they learn to internalise these voices,’ says Carey. ‘If a girl starts criticising the way she looks, suggest that she wouldn’t allow anyone else to say such cruel things to her, so why would she say those things to herself?’
  • ‘Create your own definition of beauty by admiring women outside of the stereotype,’ says Carey.
  • Remind girls that women considered beautiful can find something they don’t like about the way they look – the quest for perfection is a road to nowhere.
  • With older girls, point out that destructive self-criticism is a way of allowing the oppression of women to happen inside her own head. ‘Tell her to reject those voices,’ says Carey.

Girls Uninterrupted: Steps for Building Stronger Girls by Tanith Carey is published by Icon Books, £7.99

More inspiration:

Watch How to improve your self-esteem on LifeLabs

Buy Psychologies' first book, Real Confidence, out now

Read What is deep confidence and how do you get it? on Lifelabs

Photograph: Corbis