Oprah Winfrey

There's an entire generation of American girls growing up with low self-esteem. Mothers and daughters—it's time for a wake-up call! After discussing the marginalization of young women with Pink, a two-time Grammy® winner who's taken on the shallowness of young Hollywood, Oprah says she realized that American girls are in a crisis.

Children are becoming obsessed with external beauty at a much younger age, Oprah says, and "the consequences are going to be shattering."

A recent study by the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty revealed that nine out of every 10 girls wants to change at least one aspect of their appearance, and only 2 percent of women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful.

2. Jordyn's Obsession
Jordyn's looks occupy her every waking moment. She is obsessed with makeup, inconsolable when her hair is messy and glued to the mirror most of the time. She's not a grown woman...she's not a teenager—Jordyn is only 3 years old.

Margie, Jordyn's mother, says she and her daughter get into the worst fights about makeup. "She comes and tells me, 'I don't look beautiful. I want lipstick,'" Margie says. When Margie tells her toddler that she can't wear lipstick, Jordyn screams, cries and tells her mother "I hate you" and "I don't love you." Finding the perfect outfit and the right hairstyle is also a challenge. Jordyn wants to use hairspray and gets upset when she doesn't look "handsome."

A smile appears on Jordyn's face when she sits down with one of her favorite magazines—the Victoria's Secret catalog.
Margie, Jordyn's mother

Margie thinks images on television and in magazines influence her young daughter's obsession with beauty. She also admits that Jordyn may have learned some behavior from her. "I get ready for work...I look a certain way," she says. "I think she watches me every day, and she's really trying to be just like Mom."

Margie doesn't understand why Jordyn looks at her reflection and hates what she sees. "She just looks in the mirror and says, 'I am not pretty,'" Margie says. "At those times, I actually feel like I have failed her ... I'm scared of where my daughter will end up in 10 years."

Although Margie assures her daughter that she's a beautiful little girl, Jordyn becomes inconsolable when she feels ugly. At times, Margie is at a loss for words. "I just want to know how to help her and make her feel special and loving," Margie says. "I don't know how to respond to 'I don't look beautiful. I hate me.' ... I'm at the end of my own self-esteem as a mother."
Margie and Oprah

Looking back at her own childhood, Margie says she doesn't ever remember being told that she was beautiful. When Jordyn was born, Margie wanted better for her daughter.

"I'm constantly telling her how beautiful she is. I just don't want her to feel the way I did," Margie says. "But I've missed the mark in making her feel the inner beauty."

Dr. Robin thinks Margie may have passed her own insecurities to Jordyn by not addressing her childhood pain earlier. "The real injury [is] you tried to heal your daughter when the hurt was in you," Dr. Robin says. "You thought, 'I'll just forget about me and I'll redo it. I'll do better in her.'"

To start Jordyn's healing process, Dr. Robin asks Margie to choose one thing to do differently. Margie says she'll start putting catalogs away where Jordyn can't see them and will consider getting her daughter subscriptions to age-appropriate magazines.
Dr. Robin

Margie says she's worried about what will happen to Jordyn in 10 years...psychologist Dr. Robin Smith is concerned about where she is today. "[I'm] worried that she is in grave, imminent danger," Dr. Robin says.

Self-hatred at such a young age is a spiritual and psychological issue that can have severe consequences, Dr. Robin tells Margie. "[Jordyn] can end up being exploited because she's going to crave attention," she says. Jordyn could also grow up to be a "mean, vicious girl" who attacks other people. "She's a wounded 3-year-old who is crying desperately," Dr. Robin says. "She's not just upset...she is desperate in her attempt to feel good enough."

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty study found that 57 percent of girls are dieting, fasting or smoking cigarettes to lose weight. Seventy-two percent of girls age 15 to 17 avoid certain activities because they feel badly about their looks. For one little girl, the obsession with weight has begun at a much younger age.

At just 4 years old, Taylor is afraid of becoming fat. Most mornings, Taylor skips breakfast. At lunchtime, she leaves a peanut butter sandwich untouched and opts for a cup of peaches instead. Angela, Taylor's mother, asks, "Why are you eating fruits and vegetables?"

"Because it will make you skinny!" Taylor says.

Taylor tells her mom that she'd be sad if she was fat, and she doesn't think fat people are pretty. Angela thinks the influence of other children is to blame.
Angela, Taylor's mom

Angela says she first noticed Taylor's obsession with weight after she enrolled in pre-kindergarten classes. "She came home and she said, 'Mommy, am I fat? You know, this child called me fat,'" Angela says. "Since then she makes little comments."

Group activities like cheerleading may also be to blame, Angela says. "She would hear the other little girls talk about weight—you'd be surprised." Angela explains that cheerleaders try to stay thin so that they can become "flyers," the girls on top of the pyramids.
Dr. Robin counsels Angela

Angela reveals that she once struggled with anorexia. Today, she measures out exact portion sizes at mealtime and exercises every day...sometimes twice a day. Taylor mimics her mother's exercise routine at home.

Dr. Robin urges Angela to accept some responsibility for her daughter's obsessive behavior. "The part that was missing for me is that you were talking about school impacting her but not you," Dr. Robin says. "The only way we can help our children or anybody we love and care for is to be able to see how I contribute. Until I can take ownership as mother for a piece of the wounding, then I'm helpless."
Angela and Margie

Dr. Robin says that young children are very perceptive and can pick up on messages—whether they are expressed or merely implied. Dr. Robin asks Margie and Angela to begin thinking about the messages they are sending their daughters and what sort of boundaries need to be in place to protect them.

"I want you to start thinking about what was hurting in [you] a long time ago," Dr. Robin says. "[Those wounds are] showing up in our little babies."

Nikki, a teen model and former captain of her soccer team, says she's been in terrible pain for years because of her distorted self-image. "I've never thought I was good enough," she says. "I look in the mirror and want to vomit. My nose is too big, I hate my eyebrows, I hate my lips. I hate my legs the most—I call them tree trunks all the time and just pinch them. [I have] too much hair on my arms. I never give myself a break."

Nikki's self-hatred has grown violent in recent years. She says she's found pleasure in breaking mirrors and destroying pictures of herself. "[It] made me smile to see myself shatter," she says. Nikki also has cut herself and attempted suicide.

"I've prayed and prayed to God to let me see myself the way it seems other people see me," she says, "so for one second I can feel like I'm worth something [and] I'm not this hideous beast that I see every day."
Nikki and Oprah

Nikki says she started hating her appearance after her parents divorced when she was 7 years old. She also recognizes how her mother's own poor self-image has affected her. "I've watched my mom pinch her fat or just say, 'My arms are ugly.' I've grown up watching her pick at herself. ... Obviously I guess I'm doing the same thing."

"I've seen my mom cry in her room," Nikki says. "She's like, 'I just look hideous today.' When I tell her that I feel ugly, she says, 'Nikki, come on! You think you have problems? Look at me.'"
Nikki's mother, Lynn

Nikki's mother, Lynn, doesn't understand why her beautiful daughter has such a negative self-image, but she does acknowledge a family legacy of low self-esteem. Lynn's mother, a German immigrant, struggled to learn English and didn't feel confident academically. Lynn excelled in school, an achievement not valued by her mother. "I never felt good enough," Lynn says. "I never [measured] up."
Dr. Robin

Dr. Robin says mothers unconsciously hand down their insecurities to their children. "I call it the passing through the womb wound," she says. "As you were birthing your child through the birth canal, what is passed on are our wounds. ... It's a generational curse that must be broken."

By comparing herself to her daughter and saying things like, "I'm the one who's really fat," Dr. Robin says Lynn and Nikki are "competing" to see who hates themselves the most.

"I never looked at it that way," Lynn says. "That's horrible."

Dr. Robin says daughters must stop being loyal to their mothers no matter what. "You're making your mother's words true," she tells Lynn. "And now they're living in your daughter. That is what must be re-scripted."
Nikki and Oprah

Nikki, Jordyn and Taylor's stories suggest that parents, as well as peers and the media, shape children's self image. "You can't fix the girls and the self-esteem until you fix the mothers," Oprah says. "As Naomi Wolf said so beautifully, 'A mother who radiates self-love and acceptance actually vaccinates her daughter against low self-esteem.'"

"Hopefully you'll see yourself, sitting here on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and realize that you are just as good, just as strong, just as beautiful and powerful as anybody else who's ever sat in this seat," Oprah tells Nikki. "That is my hope for you."
FROM: The 3-Year-Old Obsessed with Her Looks
Published on April 24, 2006


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