Raising a girl to have a healthy body image. It’s not only a hot topic in our culture today, but also one that I have often given a lot of thought to myself. From the time I heard it’s a girl! (twice!) I’ve contemplated the steps to take to encourage them to have confidence in mind, body and spirit. As a mom to two young girls, I dread the day that they might doubt how beautiful and wonderfully made they are, so I’m hoping to combat it, even just a little, by utilizing the following advice.
Never talk about my own physical appearance in a negative way. There is no denying that in parenting more is caught than taught. I can tell my girls all day long how wonderful they are and to be confident, but if they were to see pinching my sides, sucking in my stomach or making derogatory statements about my own appearance, then they are going to do the same. So I just don’t do it. I don’t talk about my body in a negative way.
This is actually something I’ve come to believe so strongly in that it makes me feel uncomfortable to hear the usual body bashing verbiage other women use to describe themselves. I’ve learned that changing the way I talk to myself not only benefits my children, but it benefits me as well.
Use words to describe myself and my daughters beyond physical appearance. I’m not in the camp that says to never compliment the way my daughter looks. When a color is beautiful on her, I tell her that it makes her eyes shine. I’m OK letting her know how beautiful she is. However, just as often, if not more, I use character traits to give her compliments. She is a creative, brave, kind-hearted, funny, intelligent and loving. I want her to recognize these things about herself to know she is more than just a pretty face.
Exercise always has a positive connotation. Exercise is something I do because I love my body, not because I loathe it. I do it to make myself feel strong and healthy. It’s never as punishment. I love that my girls see me make a concerted effort to get to Burn Bootcamp regularly. I want them to see that mommy feels so good when she sweats! I show them how strong or fast I am getting and they see how the endorphin rush puts me in a good mood. I want them to find an activity they love that has them moving their bodies so they can feel great and enjoy exercise for a lifetime.
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Food is food. I know I’ve touched on this before, but in our house food is food. There is not good food or bad food and we don’t use it as a reward. When they get older (Hailey is close at 4 1/2) I won’t mind going into more detail on how this food will make us feel good and give us more energy versus a food that may slow us down or can make our tummies hurt if we eat too much. At this point though, I control almost all the food they are exposed to, so if I bring it into the house, it’s fair game in my opinion. If I bring in ice cream and they want ice cream, then we eat it.
Display positive self confidence whether I’m wearing a swim suit, sweats or a ballgown. I will be honest, this one has taken some working on for me. I don’t naturally feel extremely confident in a bathing suit. However, when the urge rises up for me to self-deprecate my swimsuit-clad body, I imagine my girls saying the same thing about themselves and it shuts me up really fast. My body is not perfect, but I’m proud of it, what it has done and what it can do, so I’m going to put on my damn swimsuit and let them see and remember a mom that got out and played with them.
Use the proper terms to refer to their body parts. You guys, saying vagina to a four year old feels weird. But that is my issue, not Hailey’s. There is plenty of research supporting how teaching children the correct names for their body parts promotes body confidence and can deter sexual predators (a topic that makes me want to cry if I even think about). Teaching them to have knowledge and ownership of their body is empowering.
Talk positively about differences between friends. Children are amazing in their innocence and curiosity. Sometimes as a parent it can feel uncomfortable when my child points out differences she sees between people, but it’s coming from an innocent place. One of our babysitters is Indian and I remember Hailey asking me why her skin was brown. I explained how we all have different color skin depending on where we come from and how God made us all so different and beautiful. That satisfied her and now she points out all the “different kinds of beautiful.”
Some days it is simple (She has beautiful yellow hair and I have beautiful brown hair) and other times, it makes me hesitate. For example, when she will ask a Target cashier why he only has one leg. However, I find that usually people are happy to answer and Hailey will then tell me about that person’s kind of beautiful.
Focus on all our bodies can DO. The lack of body shame is kids in inspiring. They are happy to run around without clothes on simply because it feels more comfortable. Of course, I can’t let them run around like that all the time, but it’s pretty cool to watch them be so comfortable in their own skin. We don’t talk much about what our bodies look like, but we do talk a lot about what we can do. We can run, jump, grow taller, climb, swim, snuggle, dig and play hopscotch. And how that is really such a wonderful thing.
Avoiding pop culture. I know we can’t avoid it forever, but with my girls currently at 4 1/2 and newly 2 years old, I have a lot of control. Not to sound like a total stick in the mud, but we don’t listen to pop radio with the girls. If I can pick the music, I certainly blast some Taylor Swift, Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney or other songs that are fun and approved, but I don’t want a random SHAKE DAT AZZ GURL song to pop up and stick in their heads. In the same vein, we don’t watch any TV that isn’t geared towards young kids. David and I don’t turn on the TV until after they are in bed anyway and since they don’t watch much TV as is (after my struggle with it!), if they do turn it on it’s for a kiddy show or a G-rated movie. I know, stick in the mud, but I love that my girls have never seen a Kardashian-clad magazine or a pop news story of Miley swinging on a wrecking ball. I’ll limit exposure for as long as I can.
I’m sure this list will evolve as the girls get older, but at 4 1/2 and 2 years old, these steps are laying the foundation for a healthy body image for life.
Do you have daughters, nieces, sisters?
How will you help them to have a positive body image in a world with so many mixed messages?
Have you struggled with body confidence yourself?
What has helped you?