I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter and I am starting to feel that the tv programs I have allowed her to watch are having a negative impact on her. She doesn't watch anything that anyone would say is inappropriate per se but I feel that the shows she really likes are very superficial and focus on "looks", ways of dressing, being a "princess" etc etc. She now will only wear dresses, very picky about what she looks like because she says she has to "look pretty". I'm devestated about this and am wondering what steps I can take to sort of reverse her thinking in regards to body image and what is important in life. I know she is young so I'm hoping I can make a positive impact on her. Thanks for your advice.
What a terrific mom you are to notice the effect of TV viewing on your daughter. I hasten to add that even girls who don't see TV are not immune to the effects of the culture. My own daughter never watched TV and went through a pink dress "princess" stage at age four. But what you are seeing is confirmed by all the research on TV watching. In fact, females of all ages who watch TV have worse body images. And of course these sexist images as well as the idea that what matters is looks is pervasive in our society.
So what's the antidote?
1. Help your daughter develop unshakeable self esteem. There are many articles on this on the Aha! Parenting website, here's a good place to begin:
2. Help your daughter love her body. Remember you're her main role model. Never diet, never make negative remarks about your body or the body of any female. For more on this essential topic, I highly recommend 101 Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body; they begin with the preschool years.
3. Help your daughter become the judge of whether she's good enough, in every way. This means you'll want to pay attention to be sure that your way of giving her feedback acknowledges her feelings with empathy, but without you making yourself the arbiter of what she should be like, or of what's good. Here are two articles to begin with:
And here is a terrific blog entry by Natalie at Feeleez that addresses this issue beautifully, particularly the question of what's "pretty."
4. Teach cultural literacy so your daughter begins to examine the messages that come at her and evaluates them rather than letting them define her. Find books that directly question the princess myth and read them with her, such as The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munschand Princess Backwards by Jane Gray.
The Lauren Mills books also deal with these issues about what's pretty in the most wonderful way, and are so beautifully illustrated that they're collector's items. I recommend them highly for any girl who's drawn to princesses and fairies.
Use all these books (and the many others that must be out there) to begin discussions with your daughter. Your aim is to examine the stereotypes and beliefs she is forming, without attacking or embarrassing her, or putting her on the defensive. You might want to ask questions like:
Why is it important to be pretty?
Who decides when someone is pretty?
What do you have to look like to be pretty?
Is prettiness innate or is it something we can make ourselves?
Does making ourselves pretty have a cost? (for instance, comfort, or adventure, or fun.)
Is she pretty? How does she know?
Is someone pretty who acts ugly?
Is someone pretty who is in rags but acts bravely and with caring?
What matters most, prettiness or being strong, smart, brave, responsible, caring, etc?
I'm sure that once you get started, you'll have many more questions to explore. Good luck with these discussions. They are so important to be having with out daughters.
Thanks for your question!