If you have a daughter, I’m sure you’ve read countless articles on how girls at a younger and younger age are having body image issues, girl problems and generally low self-esteem. In fact, I just read this article on BlogHer about a mom who wrote in wondering if she should be concerned that her seven year-old was worried about being “bikini ready”.
I experienced it first hand with my daughter. I was astounded when my oldest daughter was eight years old and started crying that she didn’t want to go to school because everything she put on made her look fat and she didn’t have any friends. I finally got it out of her that a boy in her class had told her she was chubby. My youngest daughter is now at the same age and experiencing similar insecurities.
I remember having a mix of emotions when I first dealt with this. I was angry that this little boy had caused my daughter such anguish and turned her to focus on her body shape when she was only in the third grade. And the mother in me also felt helpless and guilty. I felt helpless because when I tried to reassure my daughter that she was perfect the way she was, I received the response, “Of course you’re going to say that, you’re my mom.” It seemed that nothing I said carried any weight. And I felt guilty because I knew I had never myself outgrown a very critical and sometimes negative self body image. I knew there were times I looked in the mirror in front of my daughters and verbally expressed displeasure with the way I looked. It made me feel ashamed that perhaps I was responsible for what my daughters was feeling.
My solution for dealing with things of this sort is to get educated. I immersed myself in books and on-line articles on the subject that could help me deal with the problem. At the same time, I learned about a program being offered at my daughter’s elementary school called “Girls on the Run”.
Girls on the Run® was founded by Molly Barker in 1996 as a means to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a curriculum which creatively integrates running.” Molly was an Iron Man triathlete who struggled with alcoholism and thoughts of suicide. She came to the realization that running “gave her respect for her body and the things it could do”. It was that realization that became the basis for Girls on the Run. The lessons of the program inspire girls and the women coaching the program to “celebrate their unique identities, recognize their inner strength, understand the power they have to make individual decisions and value their connectedness with others”.
My oldest daughter completed the program when she was eight. Here she is running her first 5K race:
I was so impressed with the curriculum and the positive affect Girls on the Run had on my oldest daughter that my youngest daughter, now eight, is a currently enrolled and I’m a first year coach, although I all too often feel like the student!
So far we are four weeks into the program. What strikes me is how expressive the girls are during our discussions. They range in age from 8 to 11 years old, and they totally get it. They’re open and honest about their feelings and how those around them make them feel. We’ve had discussions about body image, expressing gratitude, healthy eating and plugging into our positive energy. My daughter said the lesson she liked the most was the one on gratitude because it made her feel happy about all the great things in her life.
As for me, I’ve realized that no matter what the age, we’re all “Girls on the Run”. We’re all works in progress. We’re all constantly struggling with fears, insecurities, and outside pressures. We can all benefit from a community that inspires us to be our genuine selves and celebrates who we are without judgement or limition.
In the words of Girls on the Run, “I am Beautiful. I am Strong. I am Worth It.”
This is the first of a series of posts I will be writing on my experience with Girls on the Run. If you know a girl who might be interested in the program or you would like to participate as a coach or running buddy, please see the Girls on the Run website for details.