AMHERST – Success may be more useful than praise alone when it comes to building self-esteem in girls, according to the executive director of Amherst’s Sexual Health Centre.
This view emerged out of a discussion with Ruthie Patriquin triggered by an ad on television. In the commercial, the claim is made that six out of 10 girls stop doing something they enjoy because they’re self-conscious about their appearance.
“It’s clear…that they are very self-conscious about their (bodies),” said Patriquin, based on her experience.
The executive director is solution-oriented. With a problem defined, she’s interested in steps that can be taken to fix it. Physical activity is one answer, she said.
Children should be involved in physical activity early, even when they first start walking, she said. Being active builds confidence, she claimed.
An active lifestyle and healthy food choices are just a couple of the topics touched on by a program offered in the summer at the centre. Go Girl is a self-esteem program that runs in July and August. Sessions are two or four days long, and emphasize four components: feeling connected, awareness of individuality, building confidence and role models. Patriquin said teaching the value of helping others is also part of the curriculum.
Go Girl targets nine to 13 year olds. There’s a fee but no one is turned away, said the executive director.
Patriquin stressed the value of focusing less on aesthetics and more on functionality when it comes to the body: what the body can do, not what the body looks like.
It can be tough combatting unrealistic body images portrayed in the media, Patriquin said. And boys can be affected by unrealistic body images, too.
“I think we have to look at what’s healthy.”
She also warned that sports can bring their own stresses to bear; some may require athletes to wear outfits that make girls self-conscious. She noted there can be a double-standard, with outfits for boys being more modest. Patriquin suggested athletic associations consider the issue.
Role models are an important part of development. Girls need to see active people and be around them, said the executive director.
As for praise, it has its place. But Patriquin argued telling someone she’s great doesn’t help build self-esteem – helping them feel great does. Aiding success (learning skills and being independent, for example) should be emphasized, not positive feedback on appearance.
“That’s what we focus on,” she said.