I remember the first time my daughter came home from dance class talking about the fact that some of the girls in class "had abs" and some of them didn't.
She was 10.
And while it may sound young to be worried about scoring a six-pack, my daughter is far from an anomoly. According to a new Yahoo Health survey of 1,993 teens and adults ages 13-64, while the average age Americans first remember feeling ashamed of their bodies fell between 13 and 14 years old, teens ages 13-17 reported that their first bout of body shame occurred as young as 9 or 10.
Sixty percent of those surveyed said their first experience of body shame came via a comment from a classmate or friend about their body. And while classmates and media depictions of beauty were the biggest influencers, 25 percent said their parents also contributed to body shame. Other triggers included seeing a photo of themselves (30 percent), closely followed by comparing themselves to someone they know and trying on clothes (28 percent each).
So what gives?
According to Robyn Silverman, author of Good Girls Don't Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It, much of the blame falls on the media. "Younger kids are getting messages earlier about how they should appear," she told Yahoo Parenting. "We've also got sexualization happening earlier on. Kids feel more hurried to behave [older] and wear adult fashions, and feel that their body needs to look a certain way. All those things taken together are creating a more self-conscious society."
So what can parents do to help promote their daughters' body confidence?
Make sure your kids are media-literate. "That means not just sitting with them and talking with them about what they're seeing, but really being able to dissect it," Silverman said. "It's explaining to them that the girl on the cover of the magazine doesn't even look like the girl on the cover of the magazine. It's puling back the curtain."
Take the focus off looks. When talking about bodies in front of your children, try to focus on the amazing things your body can do, not just what it looks like. "You can say, 'I love that my body allows me to run on the treadmill and chase after you at the park,'" Silverman said. "I love that I got to walk on this beautiful trail with you. I love these legs for allowing me to do that. I have this body that allows me to swim and dance."
Teach your child to speak positively about her body. The same goes for talking about your children's bodies. "Talk to them about the favorite things their body can do, such as playing soccer and getting a goal, or finally being able to do a somersault," Silverman said. "The more we can talk about what our bodies can do, the less important the pounds are. You're stretching your concept of what is beautiful."