The Body Image Tango: 7 Steps to Help Your Girls Feel Great About Their Bodies
Body. Your body, my body, her body. Her being your daughter. I remember reading this post about a mom dealing with her daughter's first foray into the whole body image-self-esteem territory, and it really got me thinking about just how huge this topic is. It looms large for all of us moms of daughters (and sons, I have to add). How to navigate this area, this emotionally charged issue. One that we have to help our daughters with when, perhaps, we haven't tackled it or conquered it ourselves.
Body image - how we view our bodies, whether we feel pretty or how we think others view our bodies - can directly affect our inner confidence and impact our self esteem. My friend (a mother to three girls and a sister to four women) and I have had this discussion often and we always say every woman has body issues. Some more than others. Even those models you see or even those women who always seem happy and strong and confident at some point have felt insecure about some part of their bodies.
Study after study shows that self esteem can become tied to body image and that association can start as early as preschool, with girls looking at each other and calling parts of their bodies fat. My daughter is five, and I see glimpses that it is starting already - she notices when her body is different than her friends, she sees what girls on TV and what cartoon girls look like. She still seems to be happy about her body...now. But when will that change and what can I do to help her feel fantastic about herself as her body develops?
Again, this topic is huge. More than one blog post, for sure, but as I was reading up on it to see how I can help my own daughter, I ran across some great ideas and ways to tackle this. Here's what I found:
-- Monitor your own message. Experts say that if a mom is too concerned with dieting or her own appearance in an unhealthy way, it can really impact her daughter's esteem. Watch what you say about your own body, what you are eating, as well as comments on other women's bodies.
-- Make being healthy and active and values other than looks a priority. Think about not only emphasizing good habits and health in what you do and eat daily, but also what models or celebrities or friends you point out. Talk about politicians, scientists, athletes, teachers -- and that high school senior that won the science fair and the track and field start who is getting a scholarship to college.
-- Change your, her, the whole family's vocabulary. Avoid using "fat" and "thin." Instead, discuss what is a healthy weight or use more specific terms to describe a body type. Try to dissuade those folks around your daughter from talking badly about someone's weight or appearance - whether it is a celebrity or a person they know.
-- Focus on making her comfortable with her body, especially as puberty hits. Talk in real terms about how the body changes and what goes along with it and how nobody's body is perfect. We all have imperfections, but that makes us amazing. Have her focus on elements of her body she can change (hair color and style) and those she can't (her more curvy figure versus her cousin's more straight figure). Be realistic with her about her body. Help her figure out clothing styles that look good on her body and that make her feel confident.
-- Have her point out what she likes about her body to you - and you do the same with your own body. I heard a great recommendation to give yourself three compliments a day - that little habit can combat those other negative thoughts she may have.
-- Talk about what she sees in the media. Don't hold back on how the media manipulates us. Talk about airbrushing, about stylists and how long it takes those girls on the red carpet to look that way and the amount of money and make-up used, talk about Spanx and drastic eating habits. Keep that conversation going -- not as a lecture, but as a discussion with how it makes her feel about bodies and beauty.
-- Praise her for things other than how she looks. This is vital. If she only hears, "Oh my, you are so pretty!," she will think that is the only part of her that is of worth. Constantly give her praise for things she does and ideas she comes up with and kindness she gives to others.
Tell her over and over again you love her just the way she is and that she can come to you with thoughts or question about her body. Bring up issues you see or read about, because more than likely, she has read about them too. Constant communication -- again, not lectures, but dialogue and back-and-forth -- is your main ally!
How do you feel about body image and your daughter? How do you feel about your own body? About images your daughter sees in the media? Share your experiences with talking about body image and your kids!