When does a woman’s body image start to take shape? At what age do girls start to lose self-esteem and how does that carry into adulthood? How many countless females year after year, make a New Year’s resolution that is specific to their weight, their body, their size, their shape, their face? How many girls or women will say they just can’t live their life, they have to wait to enjoy an activity, an experience, or just hold off doing something until that magic “good enough” happens? When does it start? At what point do women begin to feel like they aren’t enough of something. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not fit enough. Not cute enough. Not sexy enough. When does it happen that women start to tell themselves that they just aren’t good enough because of how they look?
What we know about our core belief system is that it begins at a very early age and it shapes our life in positive and negative ways. Any influences from media or environmental factors will greatly impact that belief system. According to Elizabeth Heubeck from WEBMD, research has shown that TV shows can shape the way a young girl views her body beginning as early as the age of 5. If a young 5 year old makes a determination that they need to be self conscious and more body aware, based on an image they view on the TV screen, then it is easy for a negative self concept to take hold. A 5 year old can barely communicate thoughts or feelings, but they can certainly make up stories about who they are, what they should look like, and what it might take for them to achieve “good enough.” What a young girl learns and decides about things can and will shape how they will act, what they will attract, and how they will live out those beliefs for the rest of their lives.
We hope that a girls environment offsets this media influence. We hope that the home life she is exposed to will offset this and validate for them that they are good enough. We hope that is it there that a girl can find the truth that lies behind the false perceptions of perfection and beauty, influenced by media exposure and what media would want them to believe about what makes a woman amazing. The reality, however, is that all to often what can be found in the home environment is just further reinforcement for what media is producing. We find a place where even if a girl hears “you are perfect just the way you are,” she might also be hearing “a minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips,” or “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” (thanks media and naturally thin, supermodel sensation, Kate Moss, for giving us that one).
Maybe a girl doesn’t even get the message “you’re good enough and perfect the way you are.” Maybe she doesn’t even get that. Most women come from homes where they were raised by well-intended care givers; Mom’s, grand mothers or aunts who obviously would never intentionally wish to create an insecurity. But, what choice do they have? After all, they themselves have fallen victim to the “not good enough” theory too and really who can blame them? It has been with them for all those years, from long before too.
Forming positive internal dialogue is difficult and improving self esteem with added external influences is challenging. If there is a father figure or male role model present a girls body image is impacted even further. Well intended comments like,”There’s my girl, you always look so pretty when you dress yourself up” can send messages that get distorted and actually create the adverse effect damaging a girls image of how she needs to look in order to gain approval. Even further, maybe the male role model or other influences make no comments at all. Nothing is said. No positive affirmations are expressed and a girl is left to make up her own beliefs from that silence. She might as a result start looking for ways to gain praise, to get noticed, by trying to change and shape how she looks just to catch the eye or attention of someone in that never ending fight to become “good enough.”
Media is in the environment and the environment supports the media. We can’t turn off all media or control all environments. Being aware that these two factors play the greatest role in how a girl will grow up and learn about her world sets the stage for knowledge on how to positively shape a girls belief system that will be carried out in all aspects of her adult life. If only we can just start teaching young girls how to avoid the common theme that plays out for so many women; “If I can just get myself to look this way…then I will finally get noticed or feel better about myself. I will finally get the attention I want and people will finally see me. I can finally live the life I want to live.” How do we do that? We educate and empower adult women and we change their core beliefs so that the negative cycle of poor self-esteem does not continue to perpetuate.
How many grown women do you know that have said, “I just need to change this and then I’ll feel better…then I can go on my dream vacation or start dating again.” How many women do you know that change the this and still seem unhappy…still seem to be struggling with that concept of perfection that only they see? Or…maybe they never seem to be able to change anything…they just stay stuck, feeling worthless, inferior or not good enough to even do anything about it. Those are the women counseling and therapy does wonders for. So many young girls and adult women struggle with poor body image and low self-esteem, but with the right help they learn to find their power within and redefine their own beautiful.
Banning all media exposure is impossible and wouldn’t offer the important opportunity to teach girls how to learn to analyze the content they are exposed to more critically. Educating girls on the efforts that often go into how females are depicted or portrayed allows for critical thinking and empowerment. Research also shows that the best validation to boost a girls confidence is acknowledgement of her accomplishments and having a female role model that portrays a strong, healthy and positive body image.
It’s very easy to see how the cycle begins, how early it starts, and how it continues to be perpetuated. Women don’t really stand a chance, do they? But…to become that 5 year old girl again…to shift that mind set…it’s not as hard as you think. The concept of good enough has to be found within, it doesn’t exist out there. With the right help and insight from a trained counselor, any woman can re-frame negative core beliefs and identify faulty thought patterns. They CAN learn that they are indeed good enough. Because the truth is…you really are…Just think about how long you have been telling yourself you aren’t. Make a commitment to find that answer out and change your mindset to support a happier you!
Heather Oller is a licensed Orlando therapist at Orlando Thrive Therapy, Coaching & Counseling who specializes in counseling Orlando couples, individuals, and families who are seeking changes in their lives. She has been a mental health professional for over 17 years and is a practicing Orlando counselor that specializes in conflict resolution for couples. You can contact her for an appointment or call 407-592-8997 for more information.