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29 April 2017Last updated
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How can I protect my kids from beauty pressure?

In a world of unrealistic beauty ideals, the hard job of raising resilient kids starts with looking in the mirror – literally

Dr Saliha Afridi
2 Oct 2016 | 10:00 am
  • Source:Shutterstock

WE LIVE IN AN AGE WHEN MEDIA HAS AN ENORMOUS HOLD ON US. Everything from the way we look through to what we wear and how we feel about ourselves is being shaped by it, and it seems that, on the whole, we’re being exposed to ideals that are perfectionistic and unrealistic. Sadly, thanks to the pervasive and invasive forces of popular culture, our children are also watching.

One day, try to pay attention to all the images you’re bombarded with during that day. From billboards on Shaikh Zayed Road through to advertisements on the sides of buses, music videos, Disney TV, Instagram and Facebook – what will strike you is that everyone is peddling the same airbrushed and hyper-sexualised images of women and girls. I often wonder to myself how I will ever raise daughters who appreciate their own unique beauty, and sons who will honour and respect women who only try to be themselves, when these are the messages that are being propagated?

But before I go raising my children to appreciate that beauty comes in many different forms, I believe I have to first take a look in the (metaphorical) mirror. As a woman, I have my own set of insecurities about my looks and how they measure up to popular culture’s idea of beauty, not to mention my concerns about getting older in a world that favours youth.

Would it be wrong of me to admit that there have been times when I’ve felt insecure as I’ve looked through magazines? Will I share with my daughters the fact that I have considered many of the suggested enhancements as I have leafed through brochures in my dermatologist’s office?

None of us are immune to the media’s influence on us. So I think it’s important that I’m honest and real with both my children and myself. I know many mothers who advocate self-acceptance and appreciation for inner beauty when they do none of these things for themselves. Children are perceptive and can see through double standards and substance-less self-love faster than you can say “Botox”.

So, I have therefore decided to make a few pledges while navigating this issue with my children:

Firstly, I will share my insecurities with my children and tell them it is OK to have them, but teach them that life should not be dictated by them. I will help them develop their inner compass so they can stand firm in a world that constantly makes them feel ‘less than’.

I will talk to them about what I believe to be more rewarding than a superficial compliment. Things like community service, acts of kindness and leaving the world in a better state.

I will not shame them for being influenced by outside forces. When they are older, I will tell them that there is nothing wrong with enhancing your beauty using make-up, or other means, as long as you’re clear about your intentions and your looks are not the only thing that you define yourself by.

I will be mindful about my conversations with them – and myself – regarding eating well, and avoid using words such as ‘thin’ and ‘fat’ to describe body types, or good and bad to describe food items.

Most importantly, I will regularly remind them of all the things that make them the amazing human beings that they are – their all-encompassing generosity, their genuine kindness, their brilliant minds, their never-ending curiosity. I will make sure that I’m explicit about highlighting their true beauty – their hearts, their souls, their good actions.

Dr Saliha Afridi

Dr Saliha Afridi

She is a clinical psychologist at TheLightHouse Arabia, www.lighthousearabia.com