The Courier-Mail - QWeekend

BEING THIN AND PRETTY DOES NOT GUARANTEE IMMUNITY FROM POOR BODY IMAGE

- This is an edited excerpt from Raising Girls Who Like Themselves by Kasey Edwards and Dr Christophe­r Scanlon, Penguin, $35

If your daughter’s weight falls within the range deemed to be “thin”, you might assume that her body image is just fine. And you may well be right. But being thin and pretty does not guarantee immunity from poor body image. That’s partly because of the effect of media influence – both Instagram and TV – but the bigger reason that the shape and size of your daughter’s body won’t protect her is that body confidence isn’t about how she looks. It’s based on how she feels about how she looks.

You just have to listen to any supermodel list her “flaws” and read about their obsessive weight-loss regimes to realise that thin and pretty doesn’t guarantee body confidence. Even Heidi Klum, who made a career as a Victoria’s Secret underwear model, laments her “pear shape”.

She’s not the only uber-thin, tall, beautiful woman to have bad body thoughts. Cindy Crawford was quoted as saying, “Oh god, I have to be so brave,” when she was doing a swimsuit photo shoot. “See,” she exclaimed, “every woman hates herself from behind.” This was from a woman who has her own series of fitness videos and was ranked number five on Playboy’s list of the 100 Sexiest Stars of the Century and is on many other “most beautiful” lists.

We all know of classicall­y beautiful women who are obsessed with losing the last five kilograms as if their life depended on it. There are countless examples of skinny girls and women who are consumed and crushed by body hatred, disordered eating, and addictions to exercise and cosmetic surgery.

We all also know women whose bodies fall outside the current standards of beauty who have reasonably good body images. What’s important is their perception­s of their body – and the importance they place on that perception. Being thin does not guarantee that your daughter will like her body or herself.

There can be two girls who look very similar, and one will be crippled by a hatred of her body, and all the insecuriti­es that go along with it, while the other girl will go through life blissfully unworried by concerns about her body. That’s because when it comes to body confidence, how girls think and feel about their bodies is way more important than how they actually look.

Another well-meaning but potentiall­y counter-productive strategy parents often use to build up their daughter’s body confidence is to tell them they are beautiful. If you constantly tell your daughter that she’s pretty and beautiful from an early and impression­able age, she will simply believe it and have body confidence. That’s the theory, anyhow. But the opposite may be true in practice.

As with the idea of body love, if people are always talking about how pretty a girl is then the girl will naturally assume that her beauty is really important. In fact, talk about it often enough and she may start thinking that it’s her most interestin­g and significan­t quality.

Dr Renee Engeln, psychologi­st and author of Beauty Sick, says, “Every time we talk about how a girl or woman looks, we send the message that looks are what’s important. When we praise girls for looking pretty, what they can hear is, ‘I’m of value to others only when I look a certain way.”’

Not only that, but by attaching such meaning to external beauty standards we’re also sending our girls the message that what other people think about their bodies is more important – much more important – than what they think about themselves.

As Sarah McMahon, a psychologi­st and eating disorder specialist, says, “Beauty is, after all, a judgment bestowed upon us by other people – and it can be taken away just as quickly. If a girl’s sense of identity is based on beauty, it is at the mercy of other people and not herself.”

Placing so much importance on beauty can set our girls up for failure because, no matter how beautiful your daughter is, in our culture it is not possible for any girl or woman to ever be beautiful enough (just ask Cindy Crawford!). Due to the combined forces of Photoshop, Instagram and the beauty, diet and cosmetic surgery industries, what counts as beautiful is constantly shifting. Everyone fails in some way.

It may sound counterint­uitive but one of the best ways you can build your daughter’s body confidence is to simply stop talking about how beautiful she is.

People focus on girls’ appearance­s all year round. Nearly every time girls leave the house they hear, “That’s a pretty dress” or “What lovely hair you have” or “You have the most amazing eyelashes” or “I like the bows on your shoes” or “You are so cute”.

These daily messages to girls about their appearance are made by well-intentione­d, lovely people who, without even realising it, treat boys like people and girls like dolls.

We’re not suggesting that people should never remark on girls’ appearance. The problem occurs when appearance-related comments make up the majority of what girls hear about themselves.

Think for a moment about all the comments that have ever been directed to your daughter over the course of her life – from a newborn to now. We’re betting that if you recorded them all and counted them up, she has received more comments about her appearance than all the other comments combined.

If family, friends, teachers, shop assistants and complete strangers only remark on how girls look, rather than what they think and do, how can we expect girls to believe that they have anything other than their beauty to offer the world? Similarly, how can we expect them to be anything other than crushed when they realise they are not as beautiful as the world says they should be? It’s hard to like yourself when you realise you do not measure up to the only thing about you that you have been told matters. ■

Sophie Dillman

Actress, 28, Sydney

I grew up in Brisbane, around the western suburbs. I have an incredible family, my mum (Karen), dad (Mark) and my younger sister (Hannah), they’ve all been really supportive of everything I’ve done. I went to St Aidan’s Anglican School in Corinda and I started nursing studies at

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in 2009. Three years after, I decided to do another degree in acting and it was there that I first met Patrick, so we didn’t meet first on the set of Home and Away. Patrick was in the year above me and he was in a play at the time. He had bleached, blond hair and big, beautiful eyes, and I remember thinking how striking his image was.

We’ve worked together before we became a couple, so we’ve always been profession­al. Patrick is a great person to act opposite. He’s always on his game, he always wants to make the scene, all the action, the best it can be. It’s really inspiring to work opposite someone like that.

The character I play on the show, Ziggy, is a young, vivacious, strong-minded and a very independen­t woman. I can’t tell you what’s going to come up on Home and Away so you’ll have to stay tuned, but a lot of people are devastated about the idea that my character Ziggy and Dean

(Patrick) could be over forever. But our work life and home life are two very different things. When you come into work, you’re playing someone who is not yourself so, I don’t know whether our relationsh­ip necessaril­y made our relationsh­ip [on screen] easier or harder. Our working relationsh­ip is quite profession­al. It is handy to be able to read lines with the person at night, though.

Patrick and I do lots of things together to switch off. We go on adventures, we eat at nice restaurant­s, we go to the beach and we watch movies, and we play a lot of card games. I do think in general, every time you’re working with Patrick, you’re always doing good work. But he’s always having a joke with everyone, so everyone is laughing all the time around him. He has such great energy, and I would have to say, Patrick’s best quality would have to be his kindness. He’s just a beautifull­y kind person in general.

Patrick O’Connor

Actor, 28, Sydney

I was born in Melbourne and lived there for eight years before I moved to Brisbane in 2000. I finished school at St Laurence’s in South Brisbane. I didn’t do any drama or acting in school. I was involved in a music program where I played the clarinet. Finishing school, I thought to give acting a crack. A couple of years later, I went to QUT for acting and that’s when I met Sophie. She was in the year below me and we just became mates over that time. When I got the job on Home and Away, Sophie had already been on it for six months. In my second year on the show, things developed.

Sophie was a bit of a tomboy at university. She’s pretty friendly, someone who was easy to talk to and when you’re starting young as an actor, it helps. I had bleached hair then. It was for a play based on Odyssey and Iliad called Children of War. I’d just finished my first year of university and at the end of 2012 I did the play. Sophie reckons it’s my best look, but I find that very debatable.

At the core of it, we are best friends, and we act like best mates on set, so it doesn’t get too weird as opposed to being a couple on set. About our characters on the show however, it remains to be seen whether they get back together or not. For now, there’s a lot to be juggled and we see the effects of that in how Ziggy and Dean navigate through their lives.

We read each other quite well when we’re acting. I remember in 2019, when we were filming out in the desert and it was 46C. My shoes were melting to the ground! But Sophie can be extremely positive in every single scenario. She’ll just have a smile on her face and it’s pretty admirable.

We had to work a lot last year because of COVID and we’d stop for eight weeks but had to make it up. It’s easy to go home and sleep, but sometimes going out on a date night can give you a bit more energy. At the end of the week after a lot of scenes together, and when we get home, I feel like she doesn’t want to look at me any more – in a funny way. I find Sophie is someone who can ground me quickly when things get stressful. She can say things that can take the sting, the heat and the air out of everything and reminds you why you keep going forward.

I find Sophie is someone who can ground me quickly when things get stressful

He has such great energy, he’s just a beautifull­y kind person in

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