Peter is a single father of two children, one boy and one girl. He recently took them clothes shopping and, although finding good value clothing for his 5 year old boy was a relatively simple task, he is finding it much more difficult for his 8 year old daughter. As she is growing up and becoming more independent, he is very happy to encourage her to make her own decisions and choices. He wants her to grow up as a confident, empowered young women but suddenly she is making choices about clothing he isn’t always comfortable with. He describes going shopping together and how she is drawn to a certain type of clothing often because she wants to look like a member of her favourite girl band.
We pondered on this discussion and also asked some colleagues who had daughters what they thought. We googled together some of the music artists young girls seem to be drawn to and decided that, yes, although they might look fantastic, we wouldn’t really want our young daughters to look like that. We then discussed further some of the role models we would be happy for them to adopt.
It’s difficult, isn’t it? We do want out children to have a voice and be confident to make their own decisions but if these decisions encourage them to adopt ways of portraying women that doesn’t align with our personal belief and value system how can we encourage them to critique more the images that they see around them? The Good Childhood Report (2016) produced by York University in conjunction with the Childhood Society highlights how girls in particular have anxiety about their appearance. No wonder if they are bombarded by images of what a female should look like when they are still deciding who they want to be.
Slater and Tiggemann (2016), in a research paper called ‘Little girls in a grown up world’, discuss how girls are impacted by sexualised images in the media and how this in turn impacts on their satisfaction with their own body image. They suggest that ‘by age 6 girls have already begun to internalise contemporary socio-cultural beauty ideas’ (p. 22) and they make links between this internalisation and later eating disorders and self-esteem issues. They encourage parents and schools to look for ways to show girls that they are much more than the sum of their appearance to try to counter the very strong messages they are receiving from the media.
We would love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you are a parent of young girls. How do you support them in making decisions about how to dress and the sort of image they want to portray to the world? Do please leave your comments below!