She thinks her feet are too big, her nose is too small, and her eyes too close together. Her thighs are “huge,” and she despairs of ever being pretty and skinny “enough.”
You’ve probably met a girl who is convinced she doesn’t measure up to someone else’s definition of beauty. This common perception often erodes a girl’s self-esteem—which not only contributes to negative behavior but also creates a reluctance to engage in positive behaviors. Consider this finding from “Beyond Stereotypes: Rebuilding the Foundation of Beauty Beliefs,” a 2005 Dove Global Study: When teen girls feel bad about their looks, 70 percent will avoid normal daily activities such as attending school, going to the doctor, or even giving their opinions. And a host of research demonstrates that low self-esteem is often associated with risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, and eating disorders. That’s why helping a girl love herself is so important.
You can stop self-esteem erosion by helping your girl redefine beauty and build appreciation of her unique contributions. One excellent resource is uniquely ME!, the Girl Scout/Dove Self-Esteem program developed for girls 8 to 17. Based on research from the Girl Scout Research Institute, the program’s four age-appropriate booklets (available in both English and bilingual English/Spanish) guide girls through simple exercises for recognizing one’s strengths and attributes, handling peer pressure, encouraging healthy eating, and identifying values and personal interests.
If your daughter is in Girl Scouts, ask your troop leader to get girls going with uniquely ME! resources. Parents or leaders of other girls’ groups can also use the materials. Try these tips at home or with a group of girls:
- Let girls lead! Encourage them to browse through uniquely ME! materials, then ask which activities interest them. Offering choices and fostering decision-making skills are key to building a girl’s self-confidence.
- Uncover and explore. Girls like to express themselves in a variety of ways. You might suggest they discover their style by organizing a fun clothes swap or a fashion show. Or invite an expert such as a yoga instructor or artist to teach them a skill they want to learn.
- Create “Me Time.” Set aside time where girls can talk about who they are, what they like, and what is important to them. Actively listening to their opinions and ideas helps boost their self-confidence.
- Set the mood. Ask girls to share their favorite songs—music that may represent their style, inspire them, or have special meaning—to set a tone of celebration and self-acceptance. Girls can create their own troop CD to give to friends and family.
- Redefine beauty. The media’s narrow definition of beauty can fuel girls’ anxiety and make it hard for them to feel beautiful when confronted with an “ideal” of beauty. Let them brainstorm about better definitions of beauty that are broader than physical appearance. They can write poems, songs, or stories to describe what beauty means to them.
- Create a “beauty timeline.” Ask them to bring in an interesting “beauty fact” about a given era. For example, in the 1860s, fuller figures were revered. Have them Post-it note their facts on a timeline on the wall or the floor. Have everyone walk through the beauty timeline and at the end have a conversation about how beauty ideals have changed.
- Invite college students, young professionals, or Girl Scouts alumnae to share their stories. Girls gain confidence through when they connect with young women and hear them talk about overcoming challenges and handling the issues they currently face.
Leanne Gluck is the national program manager for uniquely ME! The Girl Scout/Dove Self-Esteem Program at the Girl Scouts of the USA.