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July 17, 2013

Pedicures and Promoting Internal Beauty

by Hansa Bhargava, MD

I admit it: I like pretty toenails. And sometimes I like to get pedicures.

The other day, when I came home from one, my 7-year-old daughter asked me why she couldn’t get a pedicure, too. I have always tried to teach her that beauty comes from the inside, and that people who are nice and strong (think: self-confident) look more beautiful. But in the age of mani/pedi parties for 5-year-olds and child spa treatments, what message was my child receiving? Was I contributing to it? And most importantly, how would I help my daughter develop a healthy body image, without the need to depend only on external factors, like clothes, hair, and makeup?

With glossy fashion magazines and celebrities, many girls start feeling the pressure to have the “perfect” body and flawless skin. This can get to the point of not feeling happy if they don’t measure up to those idols, and sometimes can lead to feelings of depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders. It’s really important as parents to start delivering the message of positive self-esteem and positive body image early to help kids survive that societal pressure. So how can we do this?

Here’s what I’ve found works, as a pediatrician and mom:

- Mention what’s positive about a person. I will often point out circumstances when my daughter has worked hard at homework or has been responsible.

- Emphasize qualities other than looks. I show excitement when she plays soccer or paints a picture.

- Teach your child about advertising and airbrushing. It’s never too early for kids to know.

So after my pedicure, I talked with my daughter about how being strong, good, and kind makes you more beautiful than anything you have on the outside. We talked about how people who look pretty but are mean are not so pretty — and how a person who is wonderful and generous is appreciated, no matter how they look. She was satisfied that day, but I knew we’d need to have this conversation many more times.

Has your daughter asked you about makeup or celebrities? How did you handle it?

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