Look, but Don't Retouch

Heidi Montag. Britney Spears. Kim Kardashian. These are the voices in the body-image conversation. But the one that matters is yours.

Self-worth shouldn't be determined by what they see on TV or in a magazine.

Read any fashion magazine or watch any music video and you'll know that media is not kind to girls. The expectations for appearance are wildly unrealistic, and many girls quickly decide they're not thin, pretty, or sexy enough.

Take Heidi Montag for example. The reality TV star of The Hills shocked the world when she had 10 plastic surgeries in one day, turning herself from a beautiful young woman into a literal manmade creation.

What is it?

There's no denying that our media - and our culture - are obsessed with women's weight. Magazines have weekly features with names like "body watch" that criticize female celebrities, for both being too heavy or too thin. Television and movie stars showcase unrealistic body types that most girls can't copy without hurting themselves. Online how-to sites that teach girls about being anorexic or bulimic can be easily found. Girls look to the media for role models and when they compare themselves, they necessarily come up short. This lowers self-confidence and self-esteem at a time, developmentally, when kids are vulnerable anyway. Talking to girls about their weight is one of the hardest things parents can do - but the constant bombardment of messages about desirable weight and appearance makes this discussion crucial.

Why it matters

We don't want our daughters to develop eating disorders or spend their whole lives hating what they look like. Mothers of sons should also pay attention to media messages about appearance: Eating disorders do happen to boys as well, though not as often. Boys also need to be raised to understand the almost-unattainable ideals of beauty that our media broadcasts to them at every turn so that they don't judge girls unrealistically.

Parent tips for all kids

  • Watch what you say. Make sure you don't spend a lot of time talking about dieting or criticizing your own body. You are still your daughter's biggest role model. If you take care of yourself, you will help your kids appreciate all that our bodies can do.
  • If your kids are struggling with body image, you might share your own insecurities and how you dealt with them. You want your kids to know you understand. After all, this is just the beginning of a life-long dialogue.

Parent tips for elementary school kids

  • Keep girls active. Get them involved in sports and healthy lifestyles.
  • Don't stress weight, stress health.
  • Placing less emphasis on how girls look helps them value themselves in broader ways later in life.

Parent tips for middle school kids

  • Offer other role models. Get your two cents in about who your girls idolize or find pretty in the media and why. Without being heavy handed, talk about different people you find beautiful who are all different body types and say why. Keep fashion magazines to a minimum since they are all obsessive about looks.
  • Help your kid become a media critic. Pay attention to ads, magazine covers, billboards - and talk to your kids about how these messages make you feel and ask them about their own reactions.
  • Expose the myths. Make sure that kids know that celebrities have stylists, hairdressers, personal trainers, and more - all working to make them look polished. Point out that pictures in magazines have been altered to make models look flawless - and impossibly thin. Even better, show them just how much work goes into a cover shot by watching the short "Evolution" film produced by the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and available online.

Parent tips for high school kids

  • Talk about the health consequences of eating disorders. Your kids will likely know someone with anorexia or bulimia. Ask them about their reactions. Point out these are illnesses, not defects, and that their friends need help. If your child has one of these disorders, it could be a life-threatening illness and you should consult a medical professional immediately.
  • Don't bug kids about their weight - stress health and fitness instead. This is a time for packing on the pounds since many stop having such active lives. Get your child up and moving at the gym, doing a sport, yoga, anything! Use media examples of stars who are toned to show how much work goes into looking the way they do.

Want more? Get more tips and advice at Common Sense Media.