For girls to understand and believe that their worth does not revolve around their appearance and clothes, they have to have an opportunity to feel a sense of pride from somewhere else; to receive positive and motivating feedback about something else and to see that their thoughts and actions have more of a positive impact on their community and their world than however they dress or whatever they look like.
So, here are the Top 5 ways that we can encourage girls to feel that they are more than what they look like:
1. Get them involved in some kind of community service. It is important for teens especially, to appreciate that there are problems in the world that they can contribute to in a positive way. Get them helping out. Volunteering for teens should not just be about satisfying a requirement for high school credits - if you can help ignite a passion for a cause in your community, the focus on self shifts, and that time and energy can be channelled to something amazing. Perhaps they can find a place at a humane society, sharing their compassion for animals, or perhaps they enjoy cooking and can prepare meals for a shelter. It doesn't matter - the point is that the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from giving and helping creates confidence and we need girls who are confident in what they do.
2. Sports. It doesn't matter if you think your daughter or niece is 'athletic' or 'competitive' or whatever other labels we like to use on school kids. Get girls involved in something. Think outside the box to find something that suits their personality. Don't confine yourself to traditional team activities - in addition to soccer and baseball and ice-hockey, look for women's rugby teams, water polo teams, and think about golf, yoga and swimming. Physical activity to keep healthy, develop sportsmanship, and to forge new friendships is never a bad thing, and for girls with a competitive streak, it's a healthy way for them to win (and of course, lose).
3. Technology. Let them be nerds. Or geeks. Or whatever it is that people call kids that like math and science these days. EMBRACE IT. Encourage them, and compliment them on their tenacity for problem solving, or their commitment to the computer club. Girls can easily be nudged out of this realm by other people who make them feel they are not being girly or feminine enough so if there is a girl in your life showing signs of interest in this area - let her know she is awesome. Take her to science museums, or to your local flying school, take your tween outside and watch the International Space Station fly over your house at night. Look up some awesome role models for her - astronauts, engineers, pilots, inventors, scientists and run with it.
4. Find and support a hobby. Perhaps the Girl Guides is a good fit, or a specific art or craft, or a musical instrument, but get your girl doing something. If she's busy using her body and mind to create things, or design things then she's less likely to be worried about what she's wearing, or what she looks like. It takes the focus off the superficial, and gives her free time some specific meaning. You need to work with your girl to find something that makes her tick. Look around, try new things and when you find something, support it.
5. Finally, find a way to introduce your girl to elderly women who can inspire her with their wisdom, humor and wit. Girls need to see that women are beautiful at all ages, and that beauty radiates from within. Elderly women, whose skin and hair and bodies don't match what the media tells us is the beauty ideal, force us to reconsider what the definition of beauty is. Girls who can see past wrinkles and age spots and waistlines and grey hair in others, have more of chance of seeing past their blemishes and stray hairs and cellulite. Think of people in your life whose beauty radiates from their heart and introduce her to the girl in your life.
Remember, if the images in the media are all your daughter sees, then that is all she will know.
Show her that there's more to her life than what meets the eye, and give her the opportunity to live it.