I have been incredibly blessed to host several Dove Real Beauty Self-Esteem workshops in my local community. Over the years I have had eye-opening conversations with young girls about their struggles with self-esteem and body image. Moms, our girls are drowning in a sea of lies about their bodies and what beauty really means. This series comes from a place deep within my heart. If we want our daughters to grow up believing they are beautifully and wonderfully made by a creator who loves them unconditionally, we have a battle to fight.
So, here is Part 1 - Moms, we are the role models.
One of the best things about the Dove Self-Esteem workshop is this: the Moms have to be there. If the girls do not have a biological Mom in their life, their closest female mentor goes through the process with them. We need the Moms there because research has shown the number one influence on a young girl's self-esteem is - HER MOM! (Second is the Media, third is her friends, which we will discuss in part 2 and 3.)
The truth is, our daughters are looking to us for their example of what healthy self-esteem and body image looks like. We need to step up, be aware, and be willing to change the way we relate to our own bodies. We need to realize how much we can impact our precious daughters on this challenging journey.
Some important questions to ask ourselves:
1. "What do I say about my own body?"
I'm sure most of us already know, our children listen to everything we say. We need to be so careful what we say about ourselves in words and in actions. How do you feel about your own body? Like me, I'm sure so you may have mixed feelings about your post-kid body. To be honest, I have had pretty rough struggles with my own self-esteem for many reasons. I'm a work in progress - as so many of us are.
Truth is, we need to be so careful what we say and do in front of our daughters despite how we may feel inside. I never say things like, "I feel fat" or "I need to lose weight" around Audrey (my daughter is six). I've had friends in the past who have openly admitted they felt crippling pressure to be thin because their Mom was obsessive about her own weight. They saw how much their Mom focused on her desire to be thin and internalized that feeling, wondering: '...will I measure up to Mom's standards if I'm not thin?'.
Remember what you 'say' isn't only in your words. It is in your actions as well. Model healthy body image for your daughter by not spending so much time in front of the mirror worrying about looking just right. Let's try to focus our attention elsewhere and help our daughters grab hold of something deeper.
2. "What do I say about my daughter's body?"
Our daughter is the picture of our Western world's depiction of beauty. Thin, tall, blue eyes, long curly blond hair, porcelain skin. It seems everyone always has something to say to her: "Oh, aren't you beautiful!", "Wow... look at that gorgeous hair...", "My goodness, your daughter is so lovely!" Honestly, it drives me crazy. The compliments are given with sweet intentions, I know. I just really wish there wasn't such a focus on her exterior appearance.
I try hard not to focus on our daughter's looks on a day-to-day basis. I prefer to compliment her actions and her heart and mind. Sometimes she'll flat out ask me, 'Mama, do I look pretty?' and of course, I'll say 'Of course!' and will also tell her things like, "Audrey you are always beautiful to me, but especially because you have such a giving heart." I just want to bring the focus from the outer beauty to the far more valuable inner beauty.
Having said that, I do understand the importance of complimenting our daughter and letting her know she is beautiful. Of course, our daughters want to feel pretty and graceful and all those things. I just pray it won't be an unhealthy fixation for her.
I remember how I felt when extended family members would call me chubby as a preteen. I felt worthless. I ended up crash dieting at 13 and losing over 50lbs in one Summer. Recently, I've sat in rooms with Moms who have openly criticized their daughter's appearance right in front of them. "I think her nose is actually quite flat...", "Do you think her eyes are strange?", "She is getting kind of pudgy, isn't she?", "Look at those bucky teeth... what are we going to do about those?" No, I'm not kidding. These kinds of comments are heard and understood by the youngest of girls and it will deeply affect them.
Friends, I can't whisper it enough, let's be incredibly careful what we say about our daughters. And about other young girls. Let's choose to stay away from negative comments altogether and rather than constantly talking about appearance, find something deeper to compliment a young girl about. Her sense of humor, her kindness, her achievements.
3. "How do I model a healthy, balanced lifestyle?"
One of the things I learned through the workshops is how much of a positive affect living an active, healthy lifestyle can have on girls. Even girls who were overweight felt much better about themselves and didn't usually struggle with body image the way many inactive girls did. Girls involved with team sports like Soccer were less likely to have negative feelings about their body or weight. (Contrary to that, girls heavily involved in sports like dance and gymnastics felt increasingly overwhelming feelings of low self-esteem and negative body image).
What does a healthy, balanced lifestyle mean to you? It's something you may have to consider. God, family, service, healthy eating, being active, spending time outside, reducing screen time... these are all parts of our 'healthy' life. As a family we try to focus on service, staying as unplugged as possible, hiking, riding bikes, exploring outdoors, and learning together.
If we want our daughters to value a healthy, balanced lifestyle, we absolutely have to model it. They will follow our lead.
I think one of the best ways we can influence our daughters to grow a healthy body image is to pray for them and pray with them. Pray that God would fill them up with His love and His purpose. Pray for protection against this world's endless lies about beauty. Pray for your own heart, that you would know and live out truth when it comes to your own self-esteem and how it affects your daughter and the young girls in your life.
Part 2 is next - what to do with the MEDIA?