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10/11/21 blog post

our daughters depend on what we teach them "beautiful" is

guest blog by Lora Scott, MD, program director sports medicine, the center for the female athlete

My daughter just turned 5, and we are already dealing with body image issues. She's not old enough to truly worry about her weight or shape. However, after watching a princess cartoon from a well-known producer of children's movies, she announced, "I wish I had yellow hair instead of brown." And it wasn't the first time. She is also obsessed with ballerinas. I'm not a dancer. She has never been a dancer. Her only exposures to ballerinas are her jewelry box (blonde) and a cartoon (also blonde). 

The last time she said, "I wish I had yellow hair so I could be a ballerina," I quickly pulled up a video of Misty Copeland dancing to Swan Lake

My daughter thought she was beautiful. I pointed out her brown skin, her black hair, and made a point of saying that you don't have to look a certain way to be beautiful. People are beautiful in all of their various shapes, sizes, ages and colors. We talked about how healthy and strong she was. She worked hard, and she definitely ate her vegetables when she was told. (note: This happened while at home during COVID-19. The importance of eating the food we had on-hand was a daily battle with the kids). 

I know we will have an uphill battle when my daughter enters her teen years and becomes more body-aware. I know others have even bigger battles to fight. I know this goes beyond hair color. 

I'm asking for diversity in our female role models, especially athletics. I am asking for diversity in hair color, skin color, height, age and build. The diversity exists, but it is not promoted in the images our daughters see every day. Athletes come in all shapes, ages, and sizes. A survey of 2016 Rio Olympic athletes showed that female athlete height ranged from 4'4.5" to 6'8". And their weight ranged from 68-315lbs. BMI ranged from 15-48. Their ages ranged from 13.7 years to 62.3 years.

The weight-lifters had the highest BMI, and the basketball players were the tallest. Equestrian, shooting and golf had the oldest athletes. Why don't we see this range when we see "ideal" female bodies? I'm not trying to promote obesity or eating disorders. However, all of these women were in tip-top physical shape. The variability in how this looks is tremendous, and depends on more than simply exercise and food. 

Let's promote what healthy women look like in all of their various forms. Our daughters depend on it. 

Lora Scott Dayton Children's sports medicine
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Lora Scott, MD

division chief sports medicine
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