Growing up whenever I daydreamed about motherhood, I always thought I’d be a boy mom. I grew up with brothers, I went through a serious tomboy phase in fifth and sixth grades, and I love sports. It simply seemed like life was prepping me to be a mother of boys. Yep, a mom of several boys. That would be the natural progression of motherhood for me.
Well, that’s not the case. I am now a mom to two beautiful daughters who twirl, sing, dress up, and act like princesses most of the day. And I love it.
I’ve fully embraced being a girl mom.
And in doing so, I’ve realized I am responsible for helping our daughters love who they are, and especially, to love the body they were given. Not with an inflated sense of self-esteem, but with a mindset that reflects their dignity as God’s creation.
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Through my own journey from not being a fan of my body much at all in my 20s to truly loving my body in my 30s, I’ve learned one of the most important lessons about being a girl mom.
My daughters’ abilities to love their bodies starts with one person—me.
Research shows the way children, especially girls, feel about their bodies often reflects the way their parents feel about their own bodies.
Handford et al. reported that “Girls whose mothers had made self-critical comments about their own appearance and diet reported lower body esteem, lower body satisfaction, and more problematic eating attitudes than girls whose mothers had not made self-critical comments.”
So many of us mamas are caught in a cycle of generations of body hatred or at least body dissatisfaction.
Our grandmothers and mothers aren’t at fault for not really loving their bodies. Neither are we. Body dissatisfaction is a learned behavior that can be unlearned. While we aren’t responsible for disliking our bodies, once we realize this is our situation, we are responsible to change it.
This is a challenge in today’s culture where the media send the message our bodies are never good enough. We are bombarded with images of airbrushed celebrities, many who’ve had plastic surgery, and we begin thinking that is how we’re supposed to look.
New research from UCLA supports the idea that most women struggle to some degree in seeing ourselves the way we really are. The study showed that even fashion models, who knew their bodies surpassed society’s expectations, were more critical of their bodies than regular women.
While none of us is expected to be perfect in the area of body image, it’s a worthwhile topic on which to reflect, share with other moms, and take action.
So what CAN we do teach our daughters to love their bodies?
Here are nine practical things we can do today:
1. Examine our thoughts.
The Law of Attraction in the field of psychology tells us that what we meditate on and believe is what we experience. So, if we tell ourselves, “I am a beautiful, lovable woman with a strong, healthy body,” we will begin acting in ways that support this statement. We might find ourselves caring for our appearance more, making healthier meal choices, or moving our bodies more. This positive energy around our bodies will radiate to our children.
We can develop positive thought patterns around our children’s bodies, too. We can think “My daughter is beautiful inside and out. She is so lovable. Her body is beautiful and strong.” We will find ourselves affirming our daughters and making comments that support a positive body image when we are thinking this way.
2. Avoid negative self-talk or body language.
Keep your comments and body language about your appearance positive around your daughter. If she hears you commenting on what’s wrong with your body, she’ll think something is wrong with hers, too. Even frowning in the mirror when trying on clothes can send a message you feel you don’t look good enough. Instead, make positive comments about your body often (I love my strong arms that can wrap you up into a big hug). And smile when you look at yourself in the mirror (do this even if your daughter isn’t watching).
3. Help your daughter reflect on what she likes about herself.
As part of our bedtime routine, to practice gratitude, my 5-year-old and I list favorite parts of our day. Sometimes, instead of asking her the best part of her day, I ask her to name her favorite thing about herself. Snuggled next to me, she might say, “I love my singing voice.” Then I’ll say a thing or two I love about myself. Together we thank God for the gifts we’ve just listed.
Establishing thought patterns that are positive while our daughters are still young can help counter unhealthy messages sent by peers or the media later on.
4. Keep language around food neutral.
A healthy relationship with food is an important component of a healthy body image. Avoid calling food “good” or “bad” around your daughter. Food is not moral, and shame should not come with mealtime.
Food is simply food. Instead, describe foods by color, texture, or flavor in front of her. Also, be sure to serve a wide variety of foods (all foods in moderation, including sugar) so as not to send a message that some foods are “bad.” Avoid using food as a reward, also. This is a hard one, but teaching our daughters they deserve certain foods for good behavior isn’t helpful.
5. Avoid dieting.
Children will pick up on restricted eating and wonder why mom eats differently than the rest of the family. The book Intuitive Eating is a helpful read if this is an area you’re growing in. If you have a special diet due to medical issues, explain it to your daughter. Tell her you eat food that helps you feel good and everyone’s body feels differently when they eat different foods.
6. Emphasize your child’s inner strengths.
Help your daughter focus on her inner beauty. While taking care of our appearance is important, we are so much more than how we look. Help your daughter be proud of her kind heart or her willingness to help. Make comments that reinforce these strengths. Give your daughter opportunities to grow in different virtues and point out her growth (i.e. Thank you for being so patient with your sister).
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Model healthy exercise that focuses on improving strength and energy levels, not losing weight. In fact, don’t own a scale in your home at all. Show your daughter the importance of different types of movement and teach her our bodies weren’t made to be stagnant. Nor were they made to be pushed beyond their limits daily. Balance and a variety of exercise will encourage movement with healthy motives.
8. Embrace photos.
Never shy from a fun photo with your child because you’re having a bad hair day or don’t like how you look. Create memories regardless of appearance. Wear that swimsuit on vacation and play with her in the sand. Show her the way you look doesn’t affect your ability to enjoy yourself.
9. Work on your own self-love.
Take an honest look at where you fall on the self-love scale (1 being almost no self-love and 10 being full of self-love). Then spend time working on this area. Become more mindful of your self-talk and challenge those unhealthy thoughts. Journal about your strengths and weaknesses, reflect, meditate. See a counselor and talk through your behavior and thought patterns. Make sense of your own relationship with your body and transform it into one of love.
This isn’t an overnight thing. But the time to start is now. Research shows even 3-year-olds can express unhappiness with their bodies. Our children are watching us from day one and they need us to do the hard work in this area of our lives. We owe it to them.
Positive body image leads to children who think about themselves positively and with more confidence and experience life more fully. Isn’t this what we want for our daughters? I know it is for mine.
I encourage you to choose something from the list above and try it today. Let’s work to send a more positive message about our bodies to our daughters. Even a simple smile into the mirror can be a strong first step.