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Parent Info has partnered with the Dove Self-Esteem Project to offer parents advice and information to help children and young people build confidence and feel good about themselves.
Different cultures have different notions of beauty. Here’s how to help your child feel happy in their own skin, wherever they are
The beauty of difference
One wonderful thing about the modern world is the diverse cultural background many of us enjoy. Take a moment to reflect on your family background and what holds you together. Character traits, physical features, ethnicity, interests and more, all come together to make your family unique.
Different families have different definitions of beauty, expectations for behaviour and attitudes towards self-expression. These ‘differences’ can sometimes lead to negative comparisons and poor body image, when young people are desperate to ‘fit in.’
Beauty in different cultures – how it affects body image
Studies show that where we’re from, our ethnicity and cultural background all have an impact on our body image. American magazine Allure polled 2,000 women in The Allure American Beauty Survey. When asked about their personal attractiveness, African-American women were three times as likely as white women to rate themselves at the ‘hot’ end of the spectrum.
This may be because some women are culturally more comfortable with appreciating their bodies, or have more flexible concepts of beauty. In parts of Africa and Jamaica, for example, bigger, curvier figures are associated with wealth and fertility.
In China hairy moles are admired as they're thought to be a sign of a long and happy life. And in the Middle East, belly dancers are considered beautiful for their curvy tummies.
Teenagers have their own cultural identity
Children have to juggle family expectations with those of the wider culture they live in.
‘This is often a time when girls feel an overwhelming need to fit in,’ says healthy body-image campaigner, Sharon Haywood. ‘Don’t be offended if [your child] seems to reject her background – instead seek out ways to help her appreciate the value that comes from her specific set of circumstances and heritage.’
Help your child to see beauty beyond the stereotypes, so they can apply a wider concept of beauty to themselves and others, and avoid appearance-related comparisons.
How you can help
- Ask questions
Thoughtful questioning can help your child delve deeper into their own background and understand what makes them unique – physically and emotionally.
- Celebrate your own family’s background
Talk about how your family is different to others you know. How does your family define beauty – and how does your child? Ask what they admire in family members and those from other backgrounds.
- Challenge the media’s narrow view
Look through magazines or go online together and talk about how often you see different races and sizes. How does this make your child feel? Why aren’t there more diverse examples of beauty?
- Find role models who celebrate their difference
Can you think of people who have used their background in positive ways? What makes the achievements of people with unconventional families or from different backgrounds so special?
This downloadable pdf contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action. Click on 'Files: Uniquely Me parent guide.pdf' at the foot of the page to download.
Teachers: for free downloadable teaching resources, go to the Dove Self-Esteem Project area on ParentZone.org.uk