Shaping Youth’s Body Image Expert Dr. Robyn Silverman on Dove

What would you say real beauty is all about? How would you explain it to your daughter, your niece, your student, or other girls you love?

Joining Dove Self Esteem Ambassador, Jessica Weiner and psychologist and author, Ann Kearney Cooke, our own Shaping Youth Body Image Expert Dr. Robyn Silverman recently tackled this topic as guest editor for the Dove Self Esteem Fund.

For all of the controversy behind parent company Unilever’s branding tug-o-war building girls’ self-esteem and validation with the Onslaught and Evolution films, while tearing it down with the Axe Bom-Chickawahwahs, I still have a considerable amount of Dove love, and am glad to see I’m not the only one out there who does.

Ever since their True Colors campaign quite awhile ago, I’ve kept an eye out and tried to be fair in my reporting even though I was so smitten, then slapped into reality finding out their parent company, Unilever’s holdings in Fair and Lovely bleaching agents to uphold a skin tone ideal were not exactly, er…’campaign for REAL beauty.’ Still, Dove’s execution is so dang good and their message is so “spot on” that I think it ultimately boils down to a net gain issue on the awareness front.

As our own body image expert Dr. Robyn points out, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty teaches girls not to get sucked into the media hype about thinness as well as the importance of loving “the skin you’re in,” and deserve to be applauded for that. Plus, their films, workshops, and education for girls, moms and anyone who loves or works with girls is not to be brushed off lightly.

Be sure to check out Dr. Robyn’s special guest editorship on the Dove site. Here’s the full article and Dr. Robyn’s bio. The question Dr. Robyn was asked to answer for preteen and teen girls was:

How do you explain real beauty to a girl?

Highlights from Dr. Robyn’s article include:

If you asked me about real beauty, you might be surprised by what I say…when I was 14 years old, there was an enormous billboard in our town center of a woman in an expensive dress looking down on the street through heavily made up eyes.  I thought she was perfect; unblemished, flawless, and yes, a real beauty. As I look back, I realize how wrong I was to think that way…she was digitally modified, primped, preened, puffed up and paired down…what’s really beautiful about someone who doesn’t really exist?

  • We want girls to realize that real beauty is in their best friend— their mom— and in themselves…

Real beauty doesn’t need to be all made up or dressed in fancy clothes. It’s imperfectly perfect. It’s your best friend’s contagious zest for life that you see every time she pretends to pose for glamour shots while wearing a fuzzy bathroom and hippo-patterned pajamas. It’s the two of you singing into a hairbrush and dancing to some ridiculous song on the radio— just because it’s fun. Just because you can. Yes, real beauty is in your best friend…

Read the rest of Dr. Robyn’s article in its entirety!

And since we’re always trying to find fresh solutions and new ways to cope with the media and marketing cues coming from kids’ culture, Shaping Youth body image expert Dr. Robyn Silverman ADDS to this ‘rethink beauty’ conversation by offering 7 Tips to Cope with Your Child’s Need to be “Perfect” in a Win-at-All Costs World (originally published here)

Toss it into your counter-marketing war-chest for a healthier, happier kids’ self-image inside and out.

Fitting In While Standing Out
by Shaping Youth Body Image Expert Dr. Robyn Silverman

“It was one of those moments when your mouth just hangs open. Joanne, mother of Tina, age 6, wrote to me in disbelief…”My daughter’s cheerleading coach told her that she needs to slim down if she wants to be a winner. Tina just cried. When I spoke to the coach she told me, “These girls need to be able to fit into these cute little outfits. (She showed me one.) There is nothing cute about bulges and bumps on 6-year-old girls … even if you call it baby fat.”

Sports can be a wonderful way for children to grow, learn, and develop as individuals, teammates, and leaders. But as parents, coaches, and educators we need to be very careful. Our weight related behaviors, assumptions, and comments can have an incredible effect on a child’s body esteem, health, and long term feelings of self worth. Both boys and girls of every weight group can be affected.

With girls, involvement in aesthetic sports like gymnastics, figure skating, cheerleading, dance, and swimming, can have an impact on a child’s body esteem, if coaches or parents are insensitive about looks and weight.

Attire can be revealing, competition can invite body oriented comments, involvement can be contingent on “fitting” a certain stereotype, and high scores can be dependent on body size and weight.

Plenty of parents have come to me after their instructor told them that their child didn’t have the right body for ballet or the coach told them that “chubby girls don’t win competitions.”

Others have told me of the embarrassment their children face when their weights are posted in front of everyone in the spirit of “dieting by peer pressure.”

Girls have complained about their fear of getting their period because they feel that their chosen sport frowns upon curves and breasts.

Many girls admit to weight loss strategies even at a young age. Pressure to “fit in” to the perfect body standard can be linked to improper dieting, over-exercising, delayed physical maturation, laxative use, purging (vomiting), and eating disorders.

Boys can suffer from poor body esteem just like girls. Involvement in weight class competition sports like wrestling and boxing, contact sports like football or hockey, or weight-sensitive sports like cycling or running can invite body scrutiny.

A child might learn from teammates that rapid weight loss is customary in preparation for a weight-class-based competition.

Boys participating in contact sports might feel pressure to “bulk up.” Still others involved in weight-sensitive sports like cycling or running, in which low weight can give you a competitive-edge, may feel pressure to senselessly diet or use performance-enhancing drugs to keep up. Some coaches may not know what’s going on or simply choose to turn the other way.

As parents, what can we do?

1. Evaluate your own thoughts: Do you have a “win-at-all-costs” attitude? If so, you may be sending a message to your child that he needs to do whatever it takes to win, even if that means unnecessary dieting, bulking up, or using performance-enhancing drugs. Keep winning in perspective and remember the real reason your child is involved in sports.

2. Talk to your child: Be sure she understands your feelings about winning-at-all-costs and the dangers that can invite. Put “perfect” in perspective. Let your child know that if she ever feels pressured to alter her body in any way, to come talk to you.

3. Interview the coach: Whether you are dealing with an after-school program or an in-school extracurricular, you have a right to interview the coach privately. You might ask the coach about his opinions regarding weight, weigh-ins, dieting, uniforms, winning, puberty, nutrition, performance-enhancing drugs, and coaching philosophy. How does he convey his views to the children?

4. Build character: If you start teaching character-building skills while your children are young, they will take those lessons of self-respect, assertiveness, leadership, and confidence with them into any activity they do. Teach these lessons at home and find a sports program or activity program that integrates character education into their lesson plans each week. This way, your children will understand that sports are more about building character than about fitting into the ideal body type.

5. Avoid Comparisons: As parents and coaches, we need to be careful of comparing our childrens’ body shapes and weights to others. Our children should be focused on making themselves better rather than being thinner or more muscular than someone else. Every child matures at a different rate. Maturation invites weight gain that is both normal and healthy. When we compare our children based on body size and shape it can be both hurtful and destructive.

6. Talk to a doctor: If a coach has asked a child to get on a special diet of any kind, speak to your pediatrician or pediatric nutritionist. Children need a certain number of calories, protein, fluid intake, carbohydrate, and vitamins for normal growth and health.

7. Ensure developmental sensitivity: If your pubescent daughter is involved with an activity in which the “perfect body” for competition is thought to be a prepubescent one, be sure that her coach is sensitive to normal maturation changes. Similarly, if your son is involved in a sport in which the “ideal body” is a mature muscular one, be sure that the coach is sensitive to varying rates of growth and body types. How is body size and shape handled in these situations? How are children made to feel when it comes to these maturation factors that they can not control?

There is a wide array of sports and activities for children of all ages. Many sports and after-school centers offer wonderful programs with long-lasting benefits. A great coach can be a mentor, a friend, a leader, and an inspiration.

However, children are impressionable.

Even subtle messages about weight and shape in these athletic arenas can impact our childrens’ behavior, body esteem and feelings of self worth. Doing a little preventative homework and being clear about your own views can ensure a positive experience for everyone.

Dr. Robyn Silverman (full bio here) is a leading Child and Adolescent Development Specialist with a focus on character education and body/self esteem development during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.

As a strong believer that children are assets to be developed not deficits to be managed, her work reflects a positive approach that shows that with the right tools, all young people have the ability to thrive and succeed.” (gee, sounds familiar, eh? πŸ˜‰

We’re so incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Robyn as part of the Shaping Youth Advisory Board team! Below is one of the self esteem campaigns over the past couple years that started my ‘Dove Love’ and kept me coming back for more. I still have my ringtone set to True Colors as my anthem, and wear Shakespeare’s classic in a signature cuff bracelet, “To thine own self be true.”

Where do you stand on the Dove self-esteem campaign? Applause or cynicism? Forgive and forget? Or axed from your A list? Sound off, I’m curious…Stay tuned for ‘All Things Girl” week as Shaping Youth continues with ‘Carrie Ellett of Girls For A Change,’ and the International Fellows Program preview Nov. 18 at SCU…up next!

Dove Girls: The True Colors Preteen Campaign



  1. Amy,

    Your analyses are always so helpful and spot on.

    Many thanks!

  2. Oh we’re on the same page with this one.

    As I noted on Reign last year…

    the fact that Unilever also owns Axe does raise some scary flags(Caught my son dancing around and singing Bomchikawahwah last week, btw. I wasn’t thrilled)…and the whole Fair & Lovely thing…jeez, don’t me started on that. But Dove’s campaign is simply too powerful to deny. It has the ability to do real good, so they got me.

  3. Recently, I noticed that my 12-year-old daughter, who has always been very skinny, tall, and active, was starting to put on just a bit of weight. I also noticed that she was eating a lot more junk food, and more food in general.

    Her lifestyle had become more sedentary, with more opportunities for unhealthy food.

    Well, I wanted to make sure I emphasized healthy living, rather than putting undue focus on diet or exercise. I’ve been encouraging her to learn about nutrition so that she can make good choices even when I’m not around.

    And, I took her and a friend to gym so that they could work out independently, but with me also working out nearby.

    It seems to me that this is one area where moms have to walk the talk, not that my diet or health is stellar. However, I think we need to check our own attitudes if we’re going to encourage our daughters to adopt a long-term, healthy lifestyle.

  4. Hello Sandra-

    I think you bring up a great point– parents do need to live a healthy lifestyle and display a positive outlook if they want their girls to do the same.

    One thing I would add is that it’s important for parents to start early with their girls. Instead of waiting for our daughters to become more sedentary or make poor eating choices, begin early with taking walks, playing around outside, exercising, eating and cooking healthy meals together, and so on. The danger of waiting is that we can send a message to our daughters that they need to exercise and eat right in order to “not get fat” or to “lose weight” instead of simply because it’s healthy and we want to take care of our bodies for the long term.

    At 12, body image can go a little crazy– and the weights of children (especially girls) can increase dramatically as they are going through puberty. Keep that positive outlook that the whole family must take care of themselves regardless of weight or size (in order to be healthy and live long) and you should be in a great place for helping your daughter to thrive.

    Warm regards,
    Dr. Robyn

  5. And to toss in my two cents on the parenting front…12 was my daughter’s first dip into the ‘let’s work out’ pool of life…Which frankly, baffled me and seemed to come out of nowhere, since she’s athletic and outdoorsy and plays on the teams for volleyball and basketball…So my red flags went up in a different direction, as you might imagine.

    They’re still flying high (my red flags, that is) but I’ll keep them at half mast and try not to wave them wildly, because she’s in that developmental adolescence period where she literally goes from “let’s go get doughnuts” and craving junk food (yet being too lazy to walk there, so giving up the yearning) to “not having time” for lunch and then eating everything in sight when she gets home because she’s famished. (again, my peer red flags are up on this, as I see this in middle schools constantly, the abandonment of healthy habits in order to ‘hang with the pack’) —I shouldn’t say ‘abandon’ because they’re still there…just ‘stuffed down’ until they can get back to a safe haven to be themselves.

    I don’t THINK this is what’s happening here, as I think she’s just being a kid who’d rather hang w/her pals (they’ve been having basketball practices at lunch time which hasn’t helped the rush!) but I’m keeping a very close eye on ’em all…

    Sometimes I think that ‘doing what I do’ (all this research in my head) can be ‘tmi’ and grow concerns that aren’t there too, so I have to self-check and back off on my own fears creeping into social norms that are just ‘being kids.’

    So, Dr. Robyn any advice for me??? πŸ™‚

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