Not three seconds after my youngest daughter entered the world, the nurse exclaimed, “she’s a big girl!” And with that, a lifetime of being judged on her appearance began.
I am blessed and extremely grateful to be the mom of two wonderful girls. My daughters are smart, kind, and funny. OK, so the youngest is only six-months old, but I can tell by the look in her eyes that she is already smart, kind, funny and, I suspect, rather sassy. My daughters are also tall. Their measurements fall outside the scope of typical growth charts. My two-year-old wears size six clothing and my six month old wears size 12-18 months.
Every day, often multiple times a day, my eldest daughter is part of, or overhears, a conversation that references her size.
“How old is your daughter?”
“Nearly three,” I say. (saying two seems really ridiculous, although she still has a few months until her birthday)
“Oh my! She’s so big.”
When others ask her how old she is, they often look to me for confirmation, assuming she’s mistaken about her own age. My sweet girl is head and shoulders over most of her peers and looks slightly silly crowded into the average pre-school riding toy. Her younger sister is tracking to be even taller.
Now I know this isn’t a terrible problem, especially since my girls are happy and healthy. What more could a parent want? But I do wonder what the long-term effects will be. Several times a day, they are reminded that the first thing anyone notices about them is their appearance and the first thing commented on is a part of their appearance that doesn’t fit into the norm.
So how do I raise my big, beautiful girls to have big, beautiful self-esteems? I want them to be proud of who they are and never be held back by their feelings about their appearance.
With this goal in mind, I put on my teacher hat and began to think about how I foster healthy self-esteem in my students. Every day at work I come into contact with hundreds of kids, so many of whom have sadly grown up being judged on their appearance. These kids are their own worst judges, focusing on what they deem to be negative and longing to look like someone else. Can teachers, parents, and peers help kids to see themselves more positively? They sure can.
Enter Dove’s Self-Esteem Project. Dove is on a mission to ensure the next generation grows up enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look, helping them reach their full potential. Um… AMAZING!
Dove’s Self-Esteem Project confronts media messages and asks students to explore some of the technology used to transform real people into the shiny, airbrushed images people compare themselves to. It explores the obsession with body talk (continually noticing and commenting on our own appearance and the appearance of others). The program also challenges kids to explore their tendency to compare their looks to others and to rate their traits as better or worse than that of someone else.
I hope educators choose to join in on the mission.
For a while, the education system in Canada believed that the best way to instill confidence in kids was to be abundant with praise, even when it wasn’t warranted. Every paper got an A for effort and a gold star. Teachers were even encouraged not to use red pen to mark, as it could be damaging to a child’s ego. Thankfully, we have moved on from those days. Most teachers understand that surmounting challenges and achieving success through hard work is a far better way to grow students’ self-esteem, not to mention their resilience.
We also know that just telling a girl that she is pretty is not going to convince her to have a positive relationship with her appearance. Heaping compliments onto my daughters isn’t going to counter the effects of a world that constantly comments on their size.
By not talking about differences, we give them more power. Let’s keep the conversation going and teach kids to celebrate the things that make them unique.
What we need to do, as parents and educators, is guide our children in understanding where their self-perceptions come from and help them look and think critically about all the messages regularly bombarding their brains. Dove’s program does a stellar job of that.
The downloadable resources for teachers encourage educators to run a one-hour body confidence workshop, or a more in depth five-session workshop with students.
The program easily dovetails into the curriculum, hitting the requirements for critical literacy, media awareness, oral language, presenting and supporting arguments, drama activities, and the list goes on.
Each topic comes with a straight-forward teaching guide. The lessons are supported by YouTube videos and innovative images (like the images you see in this post), designed to challenge students’ thinking and create great discussion. There are worksheets that elicit thoughtful responses from kids and ask them to reflect on their own perceptions about body image, fitting in and feeling confident.
Honestly, everything a teacher needs to run the program is there—and it is GREAT! Engaging, thought provoking lessons that may just have a significant impact on the kids who participate in them. Oh, and did I mention it’s all FREE?
Right now, I’m enjoying the glories of maternity leave and devoting my time to giving my girls a solid foundation of confidence to help them navigate this appearance-obsessed world. But I have to say, the more I explored Dove's Confident Me resources, the more excited I became to run this workshop with my students. I really believe in the goals of this program that it almost makes me want to return to work early...almost.
For generations, girls have been comparing themselves to others and striving to meet unobtainable ideals. But now, here we are, well into the new millennium and we can do better. Feminism has fought so many battles, our mothers, and their mothers before them have succeeded in improving things for women and girls – and we need to keep the momentum going. Let’s make a real difference for this generation of young people – girls and boys. Let’s find a way to #InspireConfidence in the kids we are all raising. With Dove’s program, we are taking a leap in the right direction.
Oh, and do me a favour? If you have the occasion to meet my big, beautiful daughters, hold back your comment on their size. I know that may be the first thing you see, but give it a moment and my girls will show you who they really are. My daughters are great—in so much more than just their stature.