Standing up for herself

December 31, 2007 4:48:57 PM PST
How your daughters can improve their body image and self-respect and what you can do to help them.

Check out the positive social network for girls at:

About Courtney Macavinta:
Courtney is an award-winning journalist, author, speaker and teen coach who has reached more than a million girls and women through her work, including her best-selling book Respect: A Girl's Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line is Crossed. The former editorial director of, Courtney has been published by The Washington Post, The Associated Press, The Huffington Post, Daughters, Common Sense Media, CNET, The Sacramento Bee and many others. She has been featured on CNN, NBC, NPR and in Teen People, Teen Vogue and countless publications. She has worked with the national organizations Girls For A Change, Ms Foundation for Women, Girls Inc. and the Girl Scouts.

The Top 3 "unREAL(ities)" girls are facing today:
Pressure to compete with their peers, to make the grade and to compare themselves to others-pushes girls to try to be like everyone else except the REAL them. For example, 74% of girls say they are under pressure to please everyone (Girls Inc.) Girls need tools and coaching to stave off pressure and focus on being true to themselves instead.

Packaging is the focus-from celeb magazines to reality TV, girls complain that they're encouraged to invest too much time and attention into their outside appearance and material assets to get attention and respect. This leads to negative body image and an empty feeling inside. Girls are getting the message that: "you're nobody until everybody on the planet loves you." Instead they want and need to be encouraged to develop their REAL assets and gifts where are boundless and come from the inside.

Perfection and narrow ideals of beauty, success and power makes girls feel that they aren't good enough and that nothing they do is good enough. In reality, their REAL potential is limitless and so are the opportunities in life.

How we can help girls can get REAL (and be more REAL ourselves):
Model self-respect and encourage her to get REAL by:

  • making choices that feel right to her and pass her gut checks
  • appreciating and care for herself
  • speaking up and setting healthy boundaries
  • getting help when she needs it

    Encourage her to pursue her passions:
    When girls discover activities that they love, their courage and confidence grows. She can be proud of what she's doing with her time and how it makes her feel vs. just how she looks. Compliment her on what she does and what you admire about her--be specific. Time spent on her passions can help balance out too much media consumption and other outside pressures.

    Be a REAL role model:
    Girls need our help in busting out of the perfectionism trap. Share your lessons learned with her, and let her know what you're still working on. Talk about how you got through time times and cringe-inducing mistakes. Show her how you take care of yourself and appreciate who you are and that you're NOT perfect either. Talk to her about what's going on in the world and her feelings and thoughts about what's going on around her--let her know she's not powerless. Celebrate women and girls who DO good vs. just women who are known for looking good.

    Spread sisterhood:
    Encourage her to support younger girls in being REAL by being a mentor herself. Don't bash other women and girls and discourage gossip. Support other women and girls in their missions in life vs. competing with them. Let girls know there is enough room for all of us to shine--we can all be who want to be.

    Create social change and change the conversation:
    Girls have creative and innovative ideas to change not only the negative body image and celebrity worship trends, but almost every problem that is harming them and our communities. Ask them what they see going on among girls that they want to change and their ideas for making a change. Encourage them to make those changes by banding together with other girls. When we start to focus on creating social change, our focus shifts to appreciating our REAL assets not just our packaging.

    Some get REAL project ideas from REAL girls:
    Start a sisterhood circle so girls can talk about what's REALly going on in their lives and support each other. Make "INNER beauty bands" which are bracelets that you can wear with a reminder of something really cool about you on it or a caring message to yourself.

    Hang positive affirmation signs over the mirrors in the girls' bathrooms at your school that say things like:
    "This is what a future president looks like" or "Want to know what real beauty is? You're looking at it." You can create your own podcast or web site about an issue you care about and how girls can get involved or go on a media fast with your friends.