How TV Can Save Your Daughter (Sort of)

Filed under: TV

child watching television picture

The media shapes body image opinions. Credit: Getty Images

When my 6-year-old daughter told me she hates her "fat thighs" the other morning, part of me wanted to cry ("She's only 6!" I kept thinking). The other part of me wanted to boycott every TV show, movie, website, and magazine that shows a severely limited picture of girls and women -– teaching my daughter that girls come in only one body type, or one color, or one personality.

While I know media isn't the only culprit when it comes to shaping girls' opinions about themselves, it sure is a strong force. Knowing how important it is to offer my own messages to the mix when it comes to body image and positive female role models, I tried the discussion approach with my daughter.

On the way home from school, I struck up a conversation about genetics. I told her how the shape of our bodies -– at least to some extent -– reflect the bodies of our mothers, our grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. I shared (in edited form) some of my own struggles with body image, and talked about how loving your body can be difficult at times, but making peace with the body you have can result in a powerful inner confidence.

As I finished speaking, I was feeling pretty good about myself. ("Nice job, mama!" I thought.) From the back seat of the car came her response: "Is my great-grandma dead?" The conversation quickly spiraled into a discussion about death, aging, cancer, and all sorts of morbid topics. That's when I realized that while 6 might not be too young to start complaining about your body, it was too young for a conversation about the family gene pool.

I'd have to find another way into that developing little mind of hers ... something we both can relate to ... television! As a TV fan and critic myself, I know a lot about what's on TV. And let me tell you -- a lot of it is garbage. Especially when it comes to girls and women. Girls in animated TV shows are commonly drawn with teeny tiny waists (Tinkerbell, anyone?). Romance, fame, and fashion are common tween TV themes -- all of which emphasize appearance over physical strength or intellect. And then when kids get older, they have "Skins" and "Gossip Girl", where girls are fashion plates or objects of male fantasy.

These are not the images I want embedded into my daughter's quickly developing sense of self. I want her to grow up with images of girls who use their bodies to climb mountains and their brains to improve the national economy. Not Snooki. Not the plastic surgery seekers of "Bridalplasty". Not even Tinkerbell.

So from this conversation came a pledge. I pledge to seek out TV that supports my vision for my daughter. It's out there, I'd just need to dig a bit deeper. I've put together a list of shows that I think give girls (and boys) positive female role models. These characters aren't always perfect -- sometimes they make mistakes (even big ones) -- but they learn from them. And they give our daughters a wider sense of who girls are, and who they can be.

And even though my first discussion about body image and girl role models didn't go so well, I won't stop trying.

Here are a few discussions to have in your back pocket for when the time is right:
  • Point out when female characters are rewarded for positive action, rather than how they look.
  • Look for shows that depict girls being nice to each other. A lot of TV shows emphasize girl fights and drama -- or fighting over a guy.
  • Acknowledge women in high places. Oprah, Katie Couric, Condoleeza Rice -- these women have all achieved a lot by not letting their gender hold them back.
  • Teach healthy skepticism of fairytale endings. Challenge the message of the princess living happily ever after because she married a prince. Maybe the princess really wanted to become an astronaut?
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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.