Our daughters are bombarded with images in the media of what’s hot and what’s not at younger and younger ages. Models are still unrealistically thin, reality TV is anything but real, and the fashion industry preys on little girls feeling pressure to be adult. It’s no wonder parents feel helpless in their struggle to combat these negative messages, but here are some tips that offer hope (as discussed in interview with Saleema Noon on CTV Morning Live, March 5, 2012):

1) Teach your daughter to be media literate.

  • Change the question from “What’s wrong with my body?” to “What’s wrong with this picture?”
  • Ask “Do cosmetics companies want girls to feel good about how they look?”
  • Pay attention to how women are portrayed in TV and film.
  • Discuss song lyrics and the messages they send (ie. Chris Brown’s new song, Strip).
  • Discuss the difference between public and private, with the internet being as public as it gets and our bodies being as private as it gets.
  • Encourage your daughter to make good choices within reasonable limits and boundaries around what she watches, reads and listens to.

2) Encourage your daughter to be a positive role model by:

  • Standing up for what she believes in, even if it’s not trendy.
  • Respecting others’ opinions and making an effort to listen.
  • Treating all people equally.
  • Helping others more than she helps herself.
  • Honouring her commitments, following through.
  • Being a team player and a leader.

3) Be a good role model yourself.

  • Remember that your daughter is listening to everything you say and watching everything you do.
  • Even the most flippant comments can send a powerful message (ie. I better go for a run since I ate that dessert!).
  • Don’t dwell on your own appearance.

4) Focus on talent, ability and special qualities when giving compliments.

  • Avoid “You look so pretty” or other compliments that emphasize appearance…use “I like your style” or “You look so happy in that dress” instead.
  • Emphasize the importance of our bodies being strong and healthy rather than looking a certain way.
  • Don’t ever make jokes or tease in a way that could be hurtful (ie. You have big feet like Grandma Susan!), and discourage friends and family from making such comments.
  • Don’t dismiss your daughter’s comments about herself. Empathize while putting their worries into perspective.

5) Get to work!

  • Make a list of real role models in our society, girls and women who are valued for their contributions, courage, accomplishments and creativity.
  • Cut out articles and discuss women you view as positive role models.
  • Redefine beautiful: Make a list of characteristics and qualities that you think should define beauty and success. Post it on the fridge.
  • Buy some teen magazines: How many pages are about fashion and gossip vs. those reflecting your definition of beauty?
  • Listen to some songs with female positive lyrics.
  • Have a media-free day of the week.
  • Give yourselves one compliment a day.