How old were you when you first compared your body to someone else’s? I was 12, walking around the school yard with friends at recess when one of my friends turned to me and asked me what size I was out of nowhere. Without thinking I remember saying size 12 or 14 depending on the clothes. My friends stared at me, shocked, and then told me there was no way I was wearing those sizes when they were bigger than me and wearing much smaller sizes. Then it hit me, how much time girls spend defining themselves based on an arbitrary size. I had to correct myself and explain to them that when I said size 12 or 14, those were still in children’s sizes. This schoolyard conversation would be the start of years of paying close attention to how much weight body types and sizes can hold for girls and women. National Eating Disorders Association noted that as early as age 6, girls are worried about their weight or shape. SIX YEARS OLD...that’s a kid in Senior Kindergarten or Grade 1, a girl who is learning to read, write and navigate friendships.
We know that kids are becoming increasingly tech-savvy, learning to navigate their parents’ phones and tablets easily before eventually getting their own. At work, my Grade 4 students have proudly told me that they have their own Instagram accounts. When I walk by the Grade 5 classes during lunch time, it is not unusual to see students scrolling through social media on their devices. A Common Sense Media Infographic does not show anything new in stating that “unrealistic, sexualized and stereotypical images and messages about bodies and gender are rampant on the media that kids consume”. If anything, this infographic’s statistics only emphasize the work we still have to do in positive role modelling for younger girls navigating social media and YouTube. A 2017 survey found that “girls aged 10 to 17 in 14 countries found that more than half of girls with low body esteem struggle to be assertive." So what can be done to help support girls to become empowered and confident?
Campaigns such as The Dove Self-Esteem Project and Nike's Better For It are trying to support body positivity through social media advertisements. Many celebrities are also speaking out against body stereotypes and dieting trends, sharing instead stories of working out and eating healthy to feel good rather than looking good. Many celebrities such as Bebe Rexha and Chrissy Teigen are showing up more frequently in the news and on social media for speaking out against body shaming. Many gyms are working to cater towards body positivity with a focus on inclusivity.
Last week, I was working out with a group of women at the gym. We were paused between sets when someone was saying how hard it was and how much they hated working out during the actual workout but felt so happy they did it afterwards. Another woman turned and shared her mindset for working out: “ think how strong I’ll feel after I do this." I loved hearing this. It’s so different than the typical narrative so many girls tell themselves about working out ( “I’ll be skinnier or look better once I workout”).
We need to emphasize the “workout to feel strong” narrative and get rid of the body size focus. The idea that a girl can only be happy once she is a certain size or weight is ridiculous. How can we as women shape our words and actions so that we can continue to empower girls to feel confident in their own bodies? Is the current body positivity movement enough to shift the statistics for the better or are there bound to always be “mean girls” and body comparisons? How do you react when you hear someone say a negative comment about a girl’s body? Do you say something? Do you join in the girl bashing conversation? Do you stand up for the girl? I truly believe that if we are going to make any progress in body positivity we need to hold each other accountable and not just the media.
Post by: Robyn Singer