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Why we need to change the way we talk to our daughters

Kinderling News & Features

Did you know that 50 percent of preschool-aged girls are dissatisfied with their bodies?

What if the way our children see themselves is based in how we talk about our own bodies, long before the school yard or turbulent adolescent years?

Research shows that the language we use around our children's bodies at a young age could inadvertently do more harm than good.

What may be cute and fun in the home can bolster negative stereotypes and perpetuate appearance-driven values that detract from a child's unique qualities and strengths.

What age does this start?

Merissa Forsyth is from The Pretty Foundation, a non-profit organisation that’s focusing on girls aged from two to six.  

Merissa says this is the age when girls pick up lifelong ideas about body confidence, and a lot of it comes from the way people around them talk.

How do we change our language?

Do you poke and giggle about your toddler’s chubby tummy but then express guilt for yourself after eating a big meal or skipping exercise?

Merissa says there are four areas that we can focus on to change the way we talk about our children and their bodies.

  1. Emphasise to our children that every person is unique, and that no two people (even identical twins!) look exactly the same.

  2. It's easy to forget just how amazing our bodies are. Even when we are just going about our day, there are countless complex processes going on inside our bodies that enable us to do some amazing things. None of those things are dependent on appearance.

  3. What about inner beauty? As cliched as it may seem, our characters and personalities can be just as, if not more, varied and beautiful than our appearance. Try to focus on explaining why we don't "judge a book by it's cover"

  4. Not nearly enough time is spent on telling little girls that they can be brave"Little girls often say 'I can’t do this and I can’t do that.' Let’s just give things a go! Let's be brave and give it a go," Merissa says. 

Get your community on board

It’s also not just about how we speak directly to our children. How we talk to our partner or friends while our children are within earshot can also impact body image.  

"Fathers play a really important role. What they say to their wives or partners, and how they encourage their daughter as well (is huge)... A simple way to try and foster this healthy approach to body image is to focus on non appearance based compliments," Merissa explains.

That’s not to say you can’t say your daughter is pretty or beautiful, but to "have a range of compliments that don’t just focus on appearance."

So, now what?

When it boils down to its most simple parts, it’s important to teach our children what value looks like, and that it’s not simply the aesthetic that creates worth.

Girls can do amazing things. If we build it from a young age, it’s not so much a revelation, as an unquestionable truth the older they get.