In the last week, I have encountered the stories of two girls who are struggling with self-esteem/body image issues. They are eight and five years old. 8 and 5! The older one is not as concerned with her looks as her friends, and feels like an outsider. The young girl came home from school not wanting to eat dinner (and she is always hungry) and she started tugging at her belly, grabbing the baby fat roll that comes with being a healthy five-year-old.
I know that pressure on girls is affecting our children younger and younger, but seriously. The percentages speak for themselves, as to how many of us (young and old) like or dislike our bodies. We read (and I post) many stories about how society, media, “thinspiration” are corroding the images of girls. But what are we to do about it?!?!
Being aware of the problem is one thing, but what is the solution? What am I to tell parents when they ask for my opinion? I know my own experience, and I preach to middle school girls and older about how to be critical viewers of media and look at the divine within. The imago dei and such. We are all made in the image of God, and when God created us, God said that we are “very good.” All of us, with our different heights, skin color, shapes, and sizes.
That’s all well and good, but how does that translate to a kindergartener? I don’t think it does. At least not very well.
In an effort to help these parents, I googled body image and children, but I mostly found more statistics. Girl Scouts has done good research. But, dang! I know! But what are we to do about it!
Beyond telling mothers (and fathers) to be very conscious of talking about dieting and the need to lose weight in front of their growing girls and monitor exposure to Barbies and princesses and the like, I am at a bit of a loss. I mean, even American Girl dolls, which used to portray strong, diverse characters are increasingly becoming white, blond, and blue-eyed. We can lift up our children beyond looks and focus on how strong and smart and creative and funny and unique they are, but when their peers are into make-up or call them “fat,” we’ve got a bigger issue on our hands.
We certainly want to make sure our young ones eat healthy and get exercise (we do have an obesity epidemic), but what can we tell or show our children so they are able to withstand peer pressure at such a young age?! The sites I surveyed say, “talk to a professional.”
I realize that I have way more questions that answers. I am not that kind of professional. And it scares the poop out of me. I am raising a little girl, after all. Right now, at almost 21 months, she loves her belly and staring in the mirror. I don’t want that to ever change. I mean, she probably ought not look in the mirror as much as her mommy and daddy do ;), but she shouldn’t ever not want to see the image in the reflection. And I pray she never restricts her food intake or worries about her size, but studies show . . .
I will continue to do what I can, for my girl and yours. And you will help me along the way. Thank you. As always, I pray for the grace of God and Holy Spirit to share her wisdom with us all.
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.