Attend any school event where there are children aged six, and you see many little girls who could rule the world.
Their posture is upright, their eyes are bright and they have confidence in who they are—whether that is bold and boisterous or quiet and reflective.
The little boys are often a bit random, shirts untucked and less mature. Hilarious and delightful, of course, and I’m generalising, but you get the gist.
Return to this same school six years later, and the difference is palpable. Strength and confidence has grown in many of the boys, while for too many girls, I cannot help but wonder where all of those little leaders have gone.
So why is it, in this day and age, where we know so much and care so much, that this is still happening? Why do little girls feel judged by their appearance and start comparing themselves to others at such a young age? How is it possible that eight-year-olds want to go on a diet? And what can we do to minimise the self-doubt, sadness, harm and suffering for young girls?
I don’t have a clear answer for this but I do know that it’s a challenge we need to face wholeheartedly. In our modern digital world, between magazines, advertising and social media, we are exposed to an enormous amount of images on a daily basis. Even if we don’t pay a huge amount of attention to the images and advertising we scroll past, we’re absorbing a reflection of what popular culture considers ‘beautiful’, whether we realise it or not. The standards of ‘beauty’ these girls are exposed to have changed significantly over the last ten years.
This is true for all of us but, we simply don’t know the extent to which being exposed to flawless images with no real knowledge of whether they have been filtered, air brushed or digitally altered impacts on young girls in particular—who are still developing their identity and sense of self-worth.
Perhaps this is what is driving more young women to seek cosmetic treatments and surgery. Eighteen year olds are getting Botox as a ‘preventative’ measure and, while it’s wonderful that we have these options on hand, I worry about what drives a young woman to feel that she needs to prevent natural and normal changes in her body from such a tender age. I want all women, particularly younger women, to make decisions from a place of loving themselves, rather than a false belief that there is something wrong with them.
When it comes to the long-term effects of these choices, we truly are in the dark. Substances are tested for safety but they’re not tested over a long period of time or to assess how our body might respond if we continue to top up on a regular basis. How are we to know that what is deemed ‘safe’ today won’t be banned in years to come because of the detrimental toxic load or immune system challenges that can arise from having chemicals injected or foreign objects put inside us?
I believe we need to have more conversations about these things with the upcoming generation of women to foster greater awareness. We need to help them nurture a belief in themselves so that they are less vulnerable to the judgements and passing comments of others and the pervading ideals of beauty put forward by popular culture.
I’m full of hope that we can have a positive impact and truly believe we can help our young girls develop a strong sense of self-belief by choosing how we compliment and validate them. Let’s tell them that we trust in them to make excellent decisions, that we believe in them to become whatever they set their hearts to. Let’s tell them they are beautiful but also focus on all the other qualities that we see in them—their kindness, their leadership, their strength.