Body image is the No. 1 concern for young people aged 12 to 24.
Signs include obsessing about their weight, their shape, their size.
Parents should focus on a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Praise your daughter for her accomplishments not her looks.*

The new Lottie doll has arrived and it is a welcome change from the highly sexualised Barbie, Bratz and Monster High dolls that many feel contribute to negative body image issues experienced by young girls today. By contrast the Lottie doll, developed by British toy company Arklu is proportioned to show the average 9 year olds body shape and has practical clothes and realistic hair.

It has been welcomed by many experts as a step forward in reinforcing positive body image to young girls. Chief executive of The Butterfly Foundation, Christine Morgan said, “It is taking a doll back to what a doll is, it’s not a sexualised image, it’s not an adult image, it’s a doll for children, and I see that as being a very positive step forward.”

Dr Rick Kausman is a Director of  The Butterfly Foundation and a Generation Next speaker says

“Health and vitality come in all shapes and sizes, and it is important to be the healthiest weight we can achieve and maintain, rather than focus on being thin at any cost. By looking after ourselves and our bodies in the best way we can, our weight/size will evolve to the healthiest level that is possible.”

Tips for improving body image

Be a good role model: parents can encourage their children to feel good about themselves by accepting their own and other people’s body size and shape.  Some things can be changed but it is no good wanting to be taller or have longer legs. Talk about the inside qualities such as personality, skills and developing a positive outlook on life rather than what someone looks like from the outside.

Question the media: discuss how the media portrays girls and women. Talk about how they show a very superficial and contrived image of what is beautiful. Explain that many of the images they see have been digitally altered and that some celebrities follow very strict and unhealthy eating regimes to achieve their looks. In the long run their ‘look’ cannot be maintained.

What your body does is more important than what it looks like: research has found that a person who appreciates what their body can do, rather than what it looks like, feels good about their body and tends to have higher self-esteem. So try to find a family sport that you can all do like bush walking, backyard games or swimming.  Encourage team sports where a child can also enjoy the social side of getting together and exercising. It isn’t what it looks like but how you feel about your body that is important. Look after it and enjoy what it can do.

It’s all about confidence: a strong sense of identity and self-worth are crucial to your child’s self-esteem. Listen to their concerns about their body shape and the peer pressure they feel to be ‘thin’. This is especially important during puberty and adolescence when the body shape drastically changes. Let them know that this is all a normal part of growing up and they should work with their changing body rather than against it by trying to control its shape and size.  Never tease them about their weight, body shape or looks.

Don’t worry about the tag: many young girls get fixated about the size of their clothes. When they go shopping encourage them to buy clothes that suit their body shape and that fit them well. The size tag doesn’t really matter as sizes vary from brand to brand anyway and you can always cut the label out when you get home! Then it becomes just “the skirt that I feel great in”.

You are what  you eat: avoid classifying foods as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Instead use words like ‘everyday’ foods or ‘sometimes’ foods. Forbidding particular foods or labelling them in a negative way may set up cravings and feelings of guilt when these foods are eaten. Make sure the whole family has healthy eating patterns.  A part of this is making sure you all sit down together for regular meals. Include fresh vegetables and fruit as every day essentials. Try to eat lean meats and grill rather than fry rood.  It is great to eat out but try to make healthy choices when out and avoid and avoid quick fix junk food that his high in sugar and fats.

If you feel a young person you know is struggling with negative body images issues you can contact The Butterfly Foundation: Call 1800-ED-HOPE or contact [email protected].

*Mission Australia Youth Survey  2010

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: The Butterfly Foundation. Sydney Morning Herald. Arklu