Body image and girls
Rachel Friend talks with the Butterfly Foundation's education manager, Danni Rowlands about body image issues affecting young girls.
Views expressed in interviews may not be the views of the NSW Department of Education and Communities.
- Body image is the number one personal concern for young people aged 12 to 24.
- Signs include obsessing about their weight, their shape, their size.
- Parents can set a strong example by focussing on a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
- Compliment your daughter more often about her accomplishments than her looks.
- The Butterfly Foundation can help: Call 1800-ED-HOPE or contact email@example.com.
Hello, I'm Rachel Friend and welcome to School A to Z. We live in a world that places huge value and emphasis on weight, size, shape and appearance, so I guess it's not surprising really that research shows young people feel under more pressure than ever to look a certain way. Here to explain more on the subject of body image with particular reference to girls is Danni Rowlands, who's the Education Manager at the Butterfly Foundation.
Danni, you go into schools every week to talk to students about body image. Tell me what you find.
I think what we find in particular is young people are really interested in the topic. They find it really relevant, they can relate to it but also what we see is many of them commenting about the stressors that they experience or the pressures that they feel in relation to having to look a certain way and sadly that goes from as young as... from Grade 3 all the way through secondary school to Year 12.
So what do the statistics tell us?
The statistics unfortunately aren't going in the positive that quickly. We, I guess, in reference to the Mission Australia Youth Survey, which is the largest youth survey of its kind, in 2010 recorded that body image was the number one personal concern for young people aged between 12 to 24 and I guess in relevance to females it's a one in three statistic and that's a huge amount, which is quite scary considering all the other things that young people have to deal with in their life.
Yeah. So tell us, what's healthy behaviour and what would you be concerned about?
Of course it's natural for girls to want to, you know, look nice and to be healthy and that's a really important thing, and we do really promote and encourage healthy behaviours but also young people taking pride in themselves and that includes their appearance. What we don't want to see is them really starting to obsess about the way that they look - their weight, their shape, their size – so practices that are healthy with exercise that are balanced and also with food is what is encouraged.
Where we start to get concerned is if we see young people, and in particular girls, really trying to take I guess... take the measures into their own hands by starting to engage in dangerous diets, exploring things such as cosmetic surgery, spending hours and hours and not being able to leave the home without looking absolutely perfect, really stressing about how they look. That then means that it's starting to really impact on them as a person and their whole wellbeing, which is what we're concerned about.
Where do you think all this pressure comes from?
There are lots of different pressures and I guess the reality is though the society that we live in definitely places a huge emphasis on appearance and looks and it does rate it as one of the most important things for people to have above skill or talent or personality or kindness or all those other traits. But without a doubt young people do feel pressure from the media, be it the stereotypical ideals that they see, the perfection that exists in pretty much everywhere that they look, and young people and older people are bombarded with these kind of images all the time and so it is quite consuming, but also young people valuing appearance and so therefore girls are experiencing friendships and peer groups where appearance is a really important thing, so it's kind of really around them pretty much...
Tell me, how sensitive are kids? How careful do we need to be about what we say to our children as parents?
It is really important as a parent to be mindful that children are sponges and they also, and particularly through childhood, are looking to parents as their number one role model and their guide, and so therefore if a parent is demonstrating perhaps behaviours or even language or negativity around appearance and even self-esteem then sadly their children are also picking up those messages and so it is about that walking the talk, that if we see parents doing things that are positive with their health, for example, not going on diets, not engaging in ridiculous exercise regimes, trying to be really balanced and positive but also ensuring that their appearance isn't the number one thing that drives them in life, then young people will see that, you know, there are really positive ways to treat yourself and your body and that can help them to build resilience with this issue.
So it's okay for a mum to say to her daughter, "You look gorgeous" but that shouldn't be the only thing you compliment them on?
Absolutely, and I think it is important of course, you know, as a parent you see the beauty in your child and that is an important thing but it can't just be about that. What else is amazing and special about them? And it is about sometimes just highlighting the small things that they do and finding opportunities to give praise and positivity wherever, that isn't necessarily around their appearance or the physical.
Yeah. Now if you're worried, if you're a parent who has concerns, what should they do? Where should they go?
It is really important as a parent to trust yourself. If you feel there's something not right and you perhaps go and see someone and perhaps you don't get the information that you want then it is about ensuring that you trust your instincts. But in relation to this issue in particular, contacting the Butterfly Foundation; we have a national support line that's available to everybody 9:00 to 5:00 Monday to Friday. The number is 1800-ED-HOPE, which is 33 46 73, and we also have an online service also which is firstname.lastname@example.org. It's manned by trained professionals and basically gives you an opportunity to just voice concerns that you have and also to seek some advice on perhaps how to intervene with the issue, but also where to go for further support and help.
Thanks Danni. I'm sure all the parents listening will have found this very useful.
My pleasure. Thank you.
For more information about your child's healthy weight visit The Butterfly Foundation
Danni Rowlands is the education manager at The Butterfly Foundation, which provides support for Australians experiencing eating disorders and negative body issues.
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