Many young girls become obsessed with their bodies, determined that their shape will be as close to Barbie’s as possible. In fact, by age 7 (if not sooner) girls know which body shapes are considered best. By the time they are 12, most girls have come to believe that their body shape is crucial to their sense of worth.
During the preteen years, almost all girls will complain from time to time about being the wrong size or shape even if their body shape is appropriate for their particular age. This is normal. The body is going through awkward changes that are all too obvious to the scrutinizing eyes of the emerging teen.
When a child complains about her looks, it is best as a parent to acknowledge these complaints and be sensitive to your daughter’s feelings, but at the same time do not become so overly sympathetic that you make the problem bigger than it actually is. It is best to provide reassurance. For example, you might say, “I know it must be frustrating. You’re right. Nothing seems to fit quite right. You’re kind of in-between being a child and a young lady right now. You will grow out of that in time.”
When a child becomes obsessed with appearance, however, there is genuine cause for concern. This is especially true for girls. Remember Barbie. Girls feels tremendous pressure to remain skinny in order to feel pretty. Research reflects this reality as the majority of girls want their weight to be below average, and therefore find themselves constantly unhappy with who they are. (Remember, many girls define who they are by what they look like.)
A University of Vermont study of 1.500 teenagers found that at any given time, two-thirds of girls between the ages of 13 and 18 are trying to lose weight. Most of these girls were considered to be normal weight. Girls fear obesity so much that most cite being fat as a greater obstacle to popularity than missing an arm or a leg. In one study, girls were shown drawings of children who were disabled along with children who were obese. Girls consistently chose the fat children as the ones they would least like to be friends with.
How can you as a parent help? Begin by examining your own attitudes concerning how you value body image. What kind of emphasis do you place on having a “Barbie” figure? Do you compare your daughter with media models or thinner friends?
Such a focus can be very harmful. Rather, focus on the positive: eating healthy, exercise, the inner self. Help your child to recognize that living by comparison only brings unhappiness.
You also might consider tossing Barbie in the garbage.