April 3, 2017

How do we help our daughters have healthy body image?

How do we teach our daughters to love their bodies? Why must we? Because they are bombarded with imagery, from social media, movies and TV. The pictures tell them that the only woman worth paying attention to has big (store-bought?) breasts and a tiny waist. The pictures tell them that their own perfectly normal body doesn’t measure up. And they better do something about it. They’re so vulnerable to insecurity about their bodies.

So how can we as parents protect our daughters from this ugly messaging about beauty?

Two do’s and two don’ts.

The first do is to love your own body. This is hard. Especially post babies, we’ve got protuberances we never knew were possible. I sag in places that used to be perky, and bulge in spots that my mother contained with a girdle. It’s not always easy to love this body. And it’s required. If I can model that self-love that way to my daughter, she can believe it’s possible for her.

The second do is to listen to your daughter about her feelings about her body. Because media and other kids are polluting her mind with “shoulds” about the female body, she can’t help internalizing and bringing home negative body image thoughts. Listen to her spew this crap. You won’t want to.

Your instinct will be to protect her from this garbage by telling her that’s not true. That won’t work. It will just shut her down and stop her from sharing those thoughts with you. Instead, just listen. Ask questions. Ask what’s giving her those thoughts. Ask what that’s like for her. Ask how it feels. Ask what she thinks about it all. Listen more than you speak.

The first don’t is don’t infect your daughter with your worries about your own body. We all have them. Kids are smart. She can ferret them out even if you keep your issues private. Which means the challenge for us as moms is to struggle to accept and love our own bodies. To walk the walk.

This is not necessarily easy. I don’t know any grown women who’ve never struggled with body image. We’re vulnerable to feeling defeated when we look in the mirror, we diet, we beat ourselves up when we eat certain foods or too much food. Some of us over-exercise. And our daughters see this. They smell the fear on us.

So practice self-acceptance. Walk around naked in front of your daughter. Normalize the female body, with its curves and love handles. Dance like nobody’s watching.

The second don’t is don’t lecture your daughter about having a positive body image. Sure, you can tell her she’s beautiful and smart and kind and wonderful. And that she is deserving, no matter what. And that nothing hinges on her body.

But go further than that and she’ll tune you out. You can’t tell her what body image she should have, because she won’t listen. Too bad, huh? Our instinct is to tell our daughters the truth about themselves, which is that they are good enough precisely as they’re made; but unfortunately they can’t hear that from us. They can’t take it in. The sad irony is that lecturing them on how they should feel about their bodies will have no positive effect. This is so hard for us because we feel awful when our beloved children hate any aspect of themselves.

The bottom line here is very simple, and very difficult: How do you teach our daughter to love her body? By loving yours.


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