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Teaching Your Daughter to Have a Positive Body Image

As a woman, I understand the daily struggle. Eat this, don’t eat that. What to eat, how much to eat. What to wear. Is my belly too squishy? Are my boobs too small? Is my butt too big? Am I getting wrinkles? There’s no way I’ll be caught dead in a swimsuit this year.

As a mom, I know my kids are watching my Every. Stinkin’. Move.

As the mom of a daughter, I know my own body image will impact HER body image. Eeeek! That makes this a really important topic.

Many well-intentioned moms out there sincerely want to teach their daughters to have healthy body images (healthier than their own is usually the goal). So, they are careful to use words free of judgment and full of acceptance. They don’t force their daughters to eat or not eat; they don’t discuss how clothes look on them; and they don’t comment their daughters’ weight or appearance (except to say she’s beautiful just the way she is, of course).

Those are all wonderful customs to adopt. But how you relate directly to your daughter isn’t the complete picture. If you stare disapprovingly at your reflection in the mirror, try on a hundred outfits before selecting one (that really doesn’t look all that good either), weigh yourself incessantly or work out like a fanatic, skip meals (or eat like a bird), and comment “I wish I looked like that,” or “I could never wear that,” or “Ugh, I hate my [fill-in-the-blank body part],” I assure you, your daughter will pick up on all of it, and very likely apply it to her own self-image.

Externalizing these internal judgments can affect everyone around you, including your daughter. Ninety-five percent of those with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25. (source: anad.org) Worst case scenario, she will develop an eating disorder by the time she’s a teenager.

Teaching your daughter to have a positive body image

We can blame the media for teaching our daughters to hate their “average to below-average” bodies (which can never live up to the media’s unreal standards). It’s a valid point, because 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade report that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape. (source: anad.org) Unfortunately, blaming the media won’t make the problem go away – and quite frankly, it’s just skirting the issue.

While it is prudent to limit media exposure to an age-appropriate level, it is so interwoven into American culture that it is only a matter of time before your daughter is privy to the media’s messages about beauty and sexuality. Then what? Then it falls back on you, Mom.

Research shows that the most important factor in developing your daughter’s body image, for better or for worse, is YOU.

It starts with you, Mom. It starts with you dealing with your own feelings of inadequacy (and believe me, we’ve all got ‘em); taking a stand against the fear-inducing, paralyzing messages that say you’re not good enough, skinny enough, or pretty enough; refusing to talk about your weight in your daughter’s presence; putting on that swimsuit with pride and playing in the water with your kids, judgment-filled onlookers be damned.

Because the truth is, we all have our warts, our scars, our stretch marks, our cellulite. We’d like to pretend we’re the only one without it and yet, if we were just brave enough to show it, we’d unknowingly give others permission to do the same.

You want your daughter to be authentically herself, to know who she is and be proud of who she is. The best way to nurture that mentality in her is by giving yourself permission to be who YOU are, warts and all.

As this brilliant article titled Your Body is Not Your Masterpiece states:

Your body is not your masterpiece — your life is.

It is suggested to us a million times a day that our BODIES are PROJECTS. They aren’t. Our lives are. Our spirituality is. Our relationships are. Our work is.

Stop spending all day obsessing, cursing, perfecting your body like it’s all you’ve got to offer the world. Your body is not your art, it’s your paintbrush. Whether your paintbrush is a tall paintbrush or a thin paintbrush or a stocky paintbrush or a scratched up paintbrush is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is that YOU HAVE A PAINTBRUSH which can be used to transfer your insides onto the canvas of your life — where others can see it and be inspired and comforted by it.

So go, have fun and enjoy your life! Be healthy, but not obsessed. Love yourself and your imperfect body. Love those stretch marks on your belly that represent the life you created. Love your breasts that are a little saggier now because you fed your baby through them. Don’t aim for perfection, because you’ll never attain it. Be present with yourself and with your children. Accept yourself for the beautiful, radiant woman you are, and let your light shine so your daughter can emulate you.

Because either way, she will.

A message to dads, uncles, brothers, and father figures:

Don’t think you’re off scot-free here, guys. How you speak to and about women will be heard and internalized by the girls in your life. What you find attractive in a woman could be translated into what all men find attractive. Do you tease your wife or sister about her appearance? Do you refer to supermodels and scantily clad women as “hot”, while overweight, plain (read: normal) women are ugly?

Or do you choose to comment on the beauty in a woman’s confidence, sense of humor, kindness, and personality? Think about the messages you’re sending to the special young ladies in your life.