My girls are growing up in a different world than the one I grew up in. We have access to more information now, we're more connected, and social media is 24/7. And while there’s definitely some good that comes out of it, all of this connectedness also opens the doors to increased negativity and scrutiny.
When I first started hearing of those that were bullied and harassed on the internet, I was appalled. That wasn’t the world I knew as a young girl, and it wasn't what I had hoped or expected for my children. While the internet allows for unparalleled convenience and knowledge, it also makes bullying much easier and much more accessible. It's so easy to say whatever you want and not have a filter when you're behind a screen, and with a few taps of the keyboard, your words can become a dagger in some young girl’s heart.
Since I was a child, I've always had issues with my weight. I was always tall and skinny, but a combination of my 6th grade friends complaining about just how “fat” they were and my mom's influence–she was always on one diet or another–changed my self image as I grew up. I spent my teens and early 20s counting calories, and worried about struggling to lose the baby weight after my first pregnancy. I felt as though there were certain ways that I should or shouldn’t look, foods I should or shouldn’t eat, and ways I should feel about it all.
All of this before technology, the internet, and social media really took off.
So I worry about young girls today who are already critical or self conscious about the way they look and who are coming of age in this hyper-connected world. I can’t begin to imagine how my self-image as a girl and young women would have been increasingly warped had my insecurities been subject to the bullying and negativity that can so easily arise online and through technology.
I’ve found that this all applies to cell phones and texting, too. It's too easy to say exactly what you feel in the moment when texting without any regard for the delivery, then end up regretting it because you were too blunt and your words were misinterpreted on the other side. I experience this even as an adult; imagine the way an insecure and developing girl might act or feel in this situation.
A simple mention, or even subtle suggestion that a girl is imperfect–too tall, too skinny, hips too wide, hair too short–online or over text can be devastating for young girls who are trying to navigate today’s complicated social landscape.
So I worry about my girls today, as I imagine that most moms and dads do.
My suggestion is to start reinforcing positivity and self confidence at home. We should build up our girls from the time they're young. Reinforce their value and worth. Join with them in verbalizing positive affirmations to help them internalize these thoughts and ward off self doubt and outside influences. We should teach them to #SpeakBeautiful, not only to themselves, but to others.
Our friends at Dove want to help girls do this, too, so they’ve introduced the #SpeakBeautiful Squad to help young girls with resources, best practices and personal tips to address online barriers to self-esteem. Girls and their parents can visit @Dove on Twitter for tips on how to spot cyberbullying, how to form friendship circles online and in real life for self-protection, as well as how to navigate negative commentary about beauty and body image.
According to Dove, 72% of girls encounter negative beauty posts, comments, snaps, videos or photos that are damaging to their self-esteem on a weekly basis. As a mother and a young woman who’s struggled with her self-image, I am proud to support Dove and encourage young girls to feel empowered online and in real life.
I’ve struggled with my own insecurities, and I want to do my best to make sure my girls don’t experience the same. My insecurities are mine and mine alone, and I refuse to pass them along to my children, especially in a world that makes it even more challenging for them to deal with them. Today, I am a proud wife and mother, regardless of my shape or size or how I think others might judge me–especially now that I operate so often in this online world myself. I want to be the positive light for my daughters and show them that they too can help spread positivity and stop cyber bullying from having an effect on their self-worth, and the self-worth of others.