One of my biggest responsibilities as a mother to three daughters is to teach them how to love their bodies.
We are bombarded with appearance/body images daily. Often times, these images are photoshopped and altered making women and young girls despise their bodies. In fact, this body-hating behavior results in depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and eating disorders.
“We’re seeing girls at younger ages starting to be dissatisfied with their bodies, proactively trying to change them, and feeling like they need to emulate something different than what their bodies can do,” says Elissa Gittes, MD.
As mothers to daughters, we hold the greatest influence over our daughters’ self-esteem. Ultimately, we have to be positive role models. We have to walk the talk, exuding confidence, and self-love. Essentially, this will help our daughters love their appearance and most importantly, themselves.
Here are five strategies that we as mothers can do to teach our daughters to love their bodies:
1. Ditch the negative self-talk
The way we talk about our own appearance needs to be the first thing to become aware of. It’s very easy to become self-critical of our own appearance and bodies especially after having children. Our bodies change and sometimes it’s harder to lose those last few pounds. If our children “catch” us saying things about ourselves, that aren’t positive, they will mirror the things that we say. We will project onto our daughters our own shame, therefore, increasing their chances of low self-esteem and body shaming.
Increasing our daughters’ self-esteem and confidence starts in their very own home. And the first thing that needs to be considered is this. How do you feel about your own body image? Our children are watching everything we do, and they are especially listening to the things that we say. So tell yourself you’re beautiful by giving yourself character-based compliments. Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Talk about what your body can do, rather than talk about how it looks.
Some words that I always keep in mind, when I catch myself talking negatively about myself is this, "A mother who radiates self-love and self-acceptance vaccinates her daughters against low self-esteem." — Naomi Wolf
2. Tell your daughter to exercise because it feels good, not because she needs to lose weight
Exercise has a tremendous amount of benefits. Unfortunately, media mainly focuses on the external benefits, such as sculpted abs, shedding the baby fat, how to get a Kim Kardashian booty, and so on. This can often make us feel disappointed with our exercise routine. When we don’t see the physical results that we are so consumed with achieving, it doesn’t make us feel so good. However, when we focus on all the internal benefits, such as the happiness we feel during and after a workout, and how we are decreasing our chances of health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, we aren’t left feeling dissatisfied with our body.
Saying things like, "Oh man, I’ve been exercising every day, and I haven’t lost any weight" correlates exercising with weight, and not exercising for health. So, the next time you want to encourage your child to get out there and exercise, it’s imperative that we don’t tell them to exercise because they need to lose weight. More important is exercising with your daughters. After all, our children will do what we do, not what we tell them to do. So go on hikes, go for walks, go for a run, take a class together, just… move!
3. Instead of telling your daughter she’s beautiful, tell her why she’s beautiful
At some point, your daughter will ask you if you think she is beautiful. A natural response to this question is to say, of course. While it’s important to compliment our daughters, it’s more important to give them character-based compliments. Character-based compliments help our daughters differentiate themselves from their body and appearance. For example, if your daughter asks you, if she’s beautiful, you could say something like, "Yes, you are so beautiful because…the other day you gave your sister your toy, and that was really generous and kind." When we give these character-based compliments we teach our daughters that their beauty isn’t defined by their appearance. We have to tell our daughters that they matter and that they are worthy – and none of that has anything to do with the way that they look.
4. Educate her on the use of photoshop in media
Young girls are constantly subjected to negative body reinforcement. They see these images in the toy aisles, in magazines, and on billboards. When you pass a Barbie doll in the toy aisle or see an image in a magazine that is enhanced, it’s the perfect opportunity to start a conversation. You can ask your daughter questions such as, "Does this Barbie doll look like the real-life people you know? What looks real and what doesn’t?"
If your daughter is a bit older, give her a little educational session on the use of photoshop in media. You can go through a magazine together, highlighting what looks enhanced. You can also surf the internet and watch some videos on the before and after effects of photoshop. For example, there’s one circulating around of an image of a woman, that was initially an image of a piece of pizza. I showed this one to my daughters and they were really surprised! When we give them this education, this can hopefully help them decrease their chances of comparing themselves to the images they're bombarded with. In addition, this gives them the tools to think critically and start their own conversation on real beauty.
5. Ditch the scale
A few weeks ago, I was at my in-laws’ house and my mother-in-law asked me, in front of my daughters, how much I weigh. I wasn’t offended by her question, simply because English is her second language and although the question in itself can seem intrusive, or uncomfortable to answer, I knew her intentions were genuine. I put my hands up in the air, shrugged my shoulders and replied, "I don’t know." I told her that I don’t weigh myself and I simply go by how I feel. While I explained this to her, I pointed to my heart and my head, making sure she was understanding in English, what I was trying to articulate. I pointed to my lips, took the corners of each end of my mouth by my index fingers, curving them into a smile, and said, "I’m very happy when I don’t weigh myself."
With my daughters in the room, listening in on this conversation, my hope is that they took away that the number on the scale does not define happiness. It’s so easy to become fixated on a number, with our happiness determined only when we see the numbers decreasing. I’ve been their many times. It’s a sure-fire way to hate your body. In other words, rather than weigh yourself down, by weighing yourself; ditch the scale, and focus on how your body feels, instead of how much it weighs.
Let’s help our daughters reach their full potential, with confidence as solid as rocks, nothing can break it. Let’s teach our girls that they are more than a body. They are talented, strong, smart females, full of limitless capabilities.