“You’re not fat Mummy,” Belle said to me once, “you’re just very, very, very chubby.”
It was her way of being kind, of trying to boost my self-esteem, but I’m not sure she quite got it. Still, she’s right, I am a bit chubby. I’m not sure about very, very, very though.
I try to be as positive as possible about my body, no matter how I might actually be feeling. I sell my squidgy tummy as an excellent pillow, and my rather large bottom as a secret defensive weapon in netball matches. I know how easily influenced girls are by their mothers, and how what feels like a harmless comment to you can stick with them as they grow up. It’s hard though, especially when Belle has such an opposite body type to me – the soft tummy and large bottom can’t be bigged up too much (literally and metaphorically) to a child with a naturally twig like build and a bottom the size of a ten pence piece.
I think that Dove have got the right idea with the Self-Esteem Project, aimed at educating parents, teachers and carers and giving them the tools and information they need to talk to the young girls in their lives about how they feel about themselves. The Dove Self-Esteem Project was founded in 2004 to ensure the next generation of women grows up to be happy and content, free from misconstrued beauty stereotypes and the burden of self-doubt. The Project delivers self-esteem education to children (primarily girls) aged 8-17 years old through lessons in schools, workshops for youth groups, and online.
Dove has reached more than 11 million young lives so far with self-esteem and body confidence education and is aiming to reach 15 million by 2015.
Pretty impressive stuff.
I had a look at the website while I chatted to Belle about the issues she and her friends face. It could be that she is only a few weeks into secondary school, but her reactions and answers where reassuring. When I asked her whether her friends talked much about their bodies or looks, or worried about how they looked, she stared at me blankly, not sure what I was talking about. I had to explain what I meant, and she looked surprised that it would even been a topic for conversation.
There was a poll on the site that caught my attention:
I asked Belle who she felt had the most influence on her body and how she felt about herself. Again she looked a bit confused by the question. “You of course,” she said in the end, stroking my arm in an oddly patronising way. (I suspect she may feel my ego needs constant massaging. She could be right.)
When I then showed her the survey she was definitely surprised.
“That’s great that body image isn’t an issue for your friends,” I said.
“Everyone does call me midget though,” she confessed after a bit of a pause, her eyes welling up a little bit.
I laughed. (Definitely the wrong reaction. Sorry Dove. I hope it came out fondly.)
“Being small is absolutely nothing to be worried about,” I reassured her. “You still have a lot of growing to do and even if you don’t grow as tall as some other people you are still perfectly balanced. Being short doesn’t mean you can’t still be super happy and successful.”
She didn’t look convinced. She wanted me to google the technical definition of a midget, but instead I showed her some pictures of Kylie. Again, not sure this is exactly the right approach, but she seemed satisfied. I decided perhaps that I was doing more harm than good and needed to spend a bit of time on the Dove website on my own first before talking to Belle again. I gave her a hug, told her she was beautiful and kind and clever and sent her off to school.
What I like about the website is that the information and advice it gives is very practical. We all (hopefully by now) know the theory – we want girls to feel good about themselves. What we don’t always know though (as evidenced by me) is the best way to make this happen. The Dove Self-Esteem Project takes you through exactly what you need to do to initiate conversations, discuss delicate topics and help your daughter express her own feelings. It’s proper tangible stuff that you can take away and put into practice.
To celebrate International Day of the Girl today (October 11th) Dove is also launching two brand new projects, both of which have been created to help reach their 15 million target and improve the lives of girls and young women. The first is an installation on the Riverside Terrace at the Southbank Centre, designed to highlight research from Dove that shows that nearly half of girls are missing out on sports and activities because of worries about their bodies. From the 9th-13th of October, passers-by will be able to obtain information about the project, whilst reading statistics that highlight how many girls have missed out on activities. People will also be encouraged to share their own ‘missing out’ stories by writing their stories and messages of inspiration directly onto the installation.
The second is a brand new partnership with the Girl Guides that aims to boost low self-esteem through a body confidence workshop and badge. The body confidence badge is set to reach more than 400,000 UK girls and 3.5 million girls globally. The purpose of the badge is to educate girls on the importance of self-esteem whilst providing them with a badge that they can wear with pride.
What do you think about the Dove Self-Esteem Project? Do you find it hard to talk to your children about body image and self-esteem issues?
Disclosure – I helping to raise awareness of the Dove Self-Esteem Project as part of the Mumsnet Blogger Network. I received a high street shopping voucher as a thank you for taking part.