This article was contributed by Dove Self-Esteem Project

The Dove Self-Esteem Project provides teachers, family workers and parents with free resources to help raise young people's body confidence and self-esteem. Teachers and professionals can download free resources to deliver self-esteem workshops to young people.

Main content

Are gender stereotypes holding back your child?

Silhouette of a man on a blue background and silhouette of a woman on a pink background
Men are big and strong and women are slender and delicate, right? Well, no, in fact - these stereotypes aren’t borne out by scientific evidence. If we take a minute, we can probably all think of a young woman who’s tall and athletic and a young man who’s small and not at all muscular.
The gender stereotypes remain, all the same. Girls these days are told they can do anything they want - play World Cup football, become scientists or politicians. But at the same time, they’re getting another message: that how they look matters more than any of this. 
One American study found that three-quarters of girls believed society thinks female attractiveness is their most important trait. Research for Girlguiding found that children as young as seven believe they are valued more for their appearance than their achievements and character. 
Most people don’t match up to the ideals, so your child is very likely to feel that they’re failing. The Dove Self Esteem Project’s Uniquely Me parents’ guide has lots of advice on how to talk to your child about these gender stereotypes and how they can affect self-esteem.  

Nice girls and tough boys?

It’s a short step from accepting stereotypes about appearance to believing other harmful ideas about what girls and boys can grow up to do - thinking that women are irrational, for instance, or that aggression in men is a good thing.
Recent research from the Fawcett Society found that gender stereotypes have serious negative consequences for both men and women. The UN says gender stereotypes are anti-human rights because they limit men’s and women’s capacity to develop their personal abilities and express their emotions.

The good news

On the upside, there are signs the tide may be turning. There’s more and more acceptance of non-stereotypical ways of looking and being. Even so, it can sometimes take courage to be yourself - and The Dove Self-Esteem Project’s Uniquely Me parents’ guide has lots of ideas (especially in Chapter 1) for how to help your child so that they don’t feel bullied by gender stereotypes.
Here are some ideas for starters:
  • Encourage your child to talk about whether gender stereotypes really make sense given how many people ‘fail’ to match up to them.

  • Talk about people your child know and admire who don’t fit the stereotypes. Is there freedom in being unique?

  • Research shows that men are often photographed in the media showing only their head and upper torso, whereas women are more often pictured full-length. Can you find examples of this? Ask your child what effect they think it’s likely to have? Is it connected with the way we’re so quick to judge women by their body shape and style of dress?

  • Try a compliments-swap: instead of commenting on someone’s weight or hair, talk about their accomplishments or helpfulness.

  • Lead by example: find beauty in people who are unusual or quirky or brave. Avoid negative remarks about other people’s appearance, most of all in relation to stereotypes about how they ‘ought’ to look.


Get More...

‘Uniquely me’ is packed with advice and practical activities for parents to help nurture their children's body confidence and self-esteem. It 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.

Download your free ‘Uniquely Me’ parent guide

Related articles

Explore further