I watched my little one dance the other day. She set up the living room, shut out almost all the lights and said:
“Mommy, watch me.”
For several minutes, I watched. Her hair spun out around her, and she freely and openly danced around the living room. There was no formal dance training or classical ballet moves, but I watched my little one find life in the movement of her body. She moved with the music, feeling what flowed within her express itself outwardly.
Little steps, big jump, arms flowing, bending, dancing. It was beautiful.
Several times, she would falter and even fall down, but quickly she would get up.
As I watched, I found myself in awe of our bodies. We can jump, walk, step, bend, glide, twist, curve, and create and express with our bodies.
Gratitude filled my heart as I saw her find peace and delightful expression in her body. She has not developed that insecurity or cautiousness that often comes with years and experience. She hasn’t yet developed that hypervigilance about her imperfections and insecurities.
She just danced.
I thought for several moments: When did I lose that freedom? When does utter unawareness change to uber-hyperawareness for us as women?
And, I realized that I wished there was a way I could keep that for her. I could bottle it up, and give her doses of it yearly, monthly, daily if needed. Because, I am certain, there will be times it will be needed.
But, unlike Alice in Wonderland, we don’t have a bottle marked DRINK ME that sends us down the rabbit hole of positive body image. Instead, we have bottles marked:
Get the “Fastest Fat Buster”
Apply to firm skin and remove those unwanted wrinkles!
The proof is in the potion.
Turn back time and live youthfully again.
Support your busy lifestyle and lose that belly fat!
Ughh! Take a walk down your beauty aisle with some perspective glasses. You will be amazed at what you see.
So, if we don’t have a magic bottle, what do we have? Here are 9 essentials that moms need to teach all of our daughters about body image.
1. First, love yourself.
Loving yourself and showing your own body respect and kindness is the number one thing we can do for our daughters. We teach them as we model for them what is important.
An important part of this is the balance. What is too much time spent on beauty? What is not enough?
I think this balance comes individually. I spend time putting on makeup and fixing my hair. I like to look nice, but I also am very aware that the amount of time I spend in front of the mirror is a message to my own daughters. If I spend too much time there, they may get the message:
My value is based on my image. And the more time I spend on my appearance, the better I will feel.
Ask yourself this question: Is your value based on your physical appearance?
We are much more than the image in the mirror. That image can be deceptive and misleading. I remember a conversation I had with a woman who had a serious eating disorder. She often had her nails, hair, makeup, clothes done to near perfection. She was what we would describe as very physically attractive. There was nary a hair out of place. One time I made a comment about that and she said to me:
I look more perfect on my bad days.
That way no one can see how broken I am.
Our physical appearance is only a part of who we are. Make sure that you love yourself and your body regardless of what the mirror displays. We are so much more than our reflection.Love yourself and your body. We are so much more than our reflection. Click To Tweet
2. Talk to your children about media distortion and normal/healthy body image.
We need to teach our children early on that what they see in the media is not real, healthy, or what real men and women look like. Our children are exposed to thousands more images than we ever were. The explosion of media (which has wonderful benefits and positives) also exposes our children to exponentially more unrealistic and unachievable images early on than we were ever faced with.
Teach them. Let them know what normal and healthy body image is by modeling and displaying that appropriately in your home, in the media that you choose, and with your friends and family. When you see distorted and unhealthy images, tell them. Point it out. Give them a lesson in reality. What we see on tv, in movies, and social media is not always real, healthy, or achievable.
That is not what a normal, healthy woman’s body looks like.
Take that, Victoria’s Secret!
3. Limit amount and types of media in the home.
Even though we teach them about photoshopping and unrealistic media images, it is often not enough. We can know something to be true and still have it negatively affect the way we feel emotionally. So, along with teaching our daughters about media distortion, we need to limit the amount of images they are exposed to.
Pay attention to what magazines you bring into your home. Pay attention to what your children are watching on tv. Some of the worst offenders of body image distortion are targeted to tweens and teens. Music videos, fashion magazines, and soap operas are some of the worst offenders.
These images are tied to body hatred and the idea that we, as women, are not enough. It is tied to the idea that we will never be enough because our bodies can’t and don’t look like what is being displayed constantly in the media. Our young girls, tweens, and teens, whose bodies are in a growing and changing state, can easily be drawn down this path of body-hate. The changes in their bodies that they once looked forward to now become sources of shame.
If the beauty and fashion industry can convince our young women that they are not good enough early on, they will have lifelong consumers. The beauty industy isn’t really invested in making us feel beautiful with who we are. They are interested in making us feel that we cannot be beautiful without them.
4. Avoid negative statements about weight and body size.
You never know when a comment will stick. You never know when an offhand remark will leave a lasting imprint. Like the slap you don’t feel, but the words that won’t go away. Words have the power to change.
Why do we feel it so important to point out when someone is thin or fat or tall or skinny? Do we think that somehow they are completely unaware? Do we think that somewhere amidst all the ‘training’ we get to focus on body image that someone somehow missed it and simply doesn’t know?
Let us avoid the negative commentary about weight, size, shape. Don’t do it to yourself, your children, or the neighbors. Kids pay attention. They hear what we say and then apply it to themselves.
5. Allow them to make decisions about food.
Teach your children about food, healthy choices, and allow them to make decisions. Make sure you are stocking your shelves with healthy and appropriate choices, and make sure you are modeling those choices for your children. Sit down and have family meals together. Family meals have many benefits: higher self-esteem, greater resilience, lower likelihood of developing eating disorders and lower likelihood of obesity. (See The Family Dinner Project).
Once we teach our children about healthy choices, allow them to choose. Don’t use shaming labels for food. Part of developing healthy self-esteem is learning how to self-regulate. This can be done through appropriate modeling in the home.
6. Make sure they understand weight gain and fluctuations are normal part of development.
Prepare your daughters for the changes that will come as their bodies age and mature. It is normal for girls to gain weight during their maturing years. Let them know that they will see changes in their weight, in their shape and size, and this is expected and normal. As a matter of fact, it is a beautiful part of growing and developing into womanhood.
Some girls feel shame that they are “gaining weight” and they suddenly have roundness where before there was nothing. Teach them that this is normal and an exciting part of maturity. Teach them that womanhood is a beautiful thing to be treated with respect. Buy them the appropriate clothing that fits and helps them feel more comfortable with the changes that are occuring.
7. Use praise and compliments appropriately.
Often we praise girls for one thing: physical appearance. It is the first thing that we see, the first thing that pops into our heads.
Oh, you look so pretty!
Look at that dress.
Look at your shoes!
Look at your hair.
I do believe a really sincere compliment on physical appearance is important. We shouldn’t deny all of those from our children. But we also must praise our daughters for their efforts, personal values, talents, and abilities, not just their physical attributes. Our daughters are more than a pretty dress or a pretty hairstyle.
Our daughters’ real beauty comes from within, not the outward appearance.
As someone wise once said,
Let us praise our daughters for all the things that she is.
8. Teach them that it is o.k. to love themselves and treat themselves with respect.
You may be saying, “What?! Of course it is o.k. to love ourselves and treat ourselves with respect.” I fully agree. But, sometimes the messages we send are the opposite of this.
Think of the last time someone gave you a compliment. How did you respond?
Was it something like this: “Oh no! I look terrible.” or “So-and-so does this so much better than me. You should see her!!”
Did you brush it off? Did you act embarrassed? Did it make you uncomfortable?
When our daughters see this, they learn: “Oh, o.k. I should not accept compliments. That is not something a woman does.”
I remember clearly when I learned this lesson. I was an adult. Yep. I was sitting in a group and a member gave me a compliment.
I immediately responded with something like, “Oh no. I am really not that great. That is not true.”
Instead of the typical “build-up” that we often see in society (you know, the “That’s not true. You are great. You did a great job!”), I instead got a hurt look and a long uncomfortable silence. After what seemed like an interminable moment, the conversation moved on.
I realized in that moment that by rejecting the compliment, I rejected a part of the person who gave it. And, that compliment was a gift to me. I rejected the gift.
I learned a lesson that day, and although it is still uncomfortable for me to receive and accept compliments, I work at it. A kind and simple “Thank you” works great.
9. Teach your daughter her body is a gift, given with divine intent.
Our bodies are gifts. The fact that I can sit here and type out words without exerting an enormous amount of effort is literally amazing. The fact that my daughter, with absolutely no training, knew how to bend, jump and move to music that filled her being is amazing. The fact that each one of us gets to breathe in and out, see the blue in the white-cloud sky, and hear the giggling laughter of the children outside is not just amazing, it is divinely given.
Helen Keller, who had many, many physical limitations said,
She is exactly right. When we teach our daughters about their bodies, remind them of this. We are more than our bodies. We are created by a Higher Being with Divine intent. We are more than our arms, legs, ears and eyes. We are beautiful in a way that cannot be described with words, or defined by a picture. Because, those beautiful pieces of divinity cannot be photographed; they are felt with our hearts.
Let us teach our daughters how to define beauty with their hearts. They will not only find beauty within themselves; they will also discover glorious beauty in others.
So, as I watch my little ones dance their way through life, I hope they keep some of that freedom. I hope I can teach them to keep flickers of that confidence and comfort that they feel in their working bodies.
I hope and pray with these essential tools in my hands I can teach them that they are enough. So today I call out to my daughters, and to your daughters:
Watch, my little ones. Watch and learn.
If you liked this post, be sure to check out my other posts on body image: