I was asking myself a lot lately how to raise a girl with a positive body image. Because as a mom of two little girls, it breaks my heart thinking that one day they'll discover how women's beauty is valued beyond anything else.
One day, they'll find out that according to mainstream culture, women are supposed to be thin, muscular, and always picture-perfect. That according to the medias, being beautiful means having no flaws. And that being beautiful is more important than smart, funny or gentle.
One day they'll find out that their entire value may be judged solely by their appearance. Because of all that, they could one day start obsessing about their body weight. And they may develop an eating disorder.
Of course, there are more factors to an eating disorder than only the influence of medias, but according to these researches (this, and that) the impact of over sexualized body image is much stronger than we could imagine.
But I know that there are things that can be done in order for girls to be less likely influenced by the mainstream beauty ideals. The list is long, and there might be some changes to make in our lives, but I think it's more than worth it!
1. No fashion magazines at home
Girls don't need to see photoshopped and unnaturally arousing women as a model of feminity, and they don't need to compare themselves with these images. Girls don't understand that models are photoshopped and that it's their job to look in a certain way, so they might jump to a conclusion that fashion magazines are the reflection of real life. But they are not! And if you need style and fashion inspiration, then there is plenty of that online.
2. Stop the negative comments regarding your body in front of kids
If you ever looked in to the mirror and said that you look fat/gained weight/have cellulite then please don't do it ever again! It's bad for you, it's bad for your daughter! What she learns, is that despising your body is normal. And that looking for flaws and criticizing yourself, is something that women do, regardless of how they look. Remember that whatever you do, she'll copy (so don't be surprised to see your 6 year old criticizing her tiny belly if you criticize yours).
3. No I-need-to-lose-weight talk in front of kids
Again, kids learn how to be a grown up from you, the parent, and your girl is learning how to act like a women by imitating mothers behavior. Do you want your little girl to think that she should be on a diet? Do you want her to think that regardless from her actual size she should lose weight because this is how grown up women are? I know you don't.
4. Stop the food-guilt association
Stop with the the dichotomy of the good food and bad food, healthy food and guilty-pleasure food. And stop the I-feel-so-bad-I-ate-all-that-cake talk. Food should be the fuel for our bodies, the energy to get us working and playing and sometimes the comfort to lift our spirits. If you struggle with guilt, keep it to yourself. Because for kids, food is just food, and it would be great if it could stay that way.
5. Don't praise girls only for their looks. Praise them for what they do, and how smart/strong/capable they are when they do things.
If a young girl hears that she's pretty all the time, she might end up thinking that's her only quality. She becomes unsure of her real value. Her self esteem becomes low, and she starts thinking that her worth is based only on her looks. She can become scared of losing her beauty: because she'll think that's why people love her. She'll start believing that she should always be beautiful. So next time you feel like complimenting your daughter, tell her that she's fast, creative or fearless! Acknowledge her sense of humour, her critical thinking or her good heart. Let her know that you value her beyond her pretty eyes!
6. Show them that you love your body for what it does, and not for how it looks
Even if it sounds odd, compliment yourself in front of your girl. Tell her what you like about your body that's not connected to how it looks. I say that I love my belly because it used to be a home for my babies and it makes for a very comfy pillow. I also praise how strong my body is, and that's why I can lift her and play with her.
7. Do physical activity together for fun!
I used to think about exercise just as a way of losing weight and not as a way to have fun. But I want my girls to see physical activity as a fun way to spend time, to feel strong and connected. I'm not that perfect, so what we actually do, is yoga at home (that's my kind of exercise) and not running in the morning. But I do plan on taking her hiking as much as possible this summer, and her dad is trying to insert in her his love for winter sports. So I hope we're on the right track.
8. Cook together. And always eat breakfast
It's proven that kids who are involved in food preparation eat better and healthier. So let them help you around with groceries, recipe search and cooking. Teach them the joy of eating well and the routine of a well balanced breakfast.
9. Talk to them about what they see on tv and in magazines. Explain the principle of publicity.
Even if your girl is still young, explain to her that these ladies who obviously forgot to dress in the morning, are there because they're trying to convince you to buy a shampoo/cream/car (whatever it is). The older they get, the more publicity they'll see. Make sure they know it's not real and that there is a purpose in it.
10. Install the positive self esteem and let them know that you love them for who they are.
Your voice becomes the inner voice of your kids. When you tell them that you love them, that they're capable, that they did something good and that you appreciate their effort, then this is how they'll talk to themselves. That becomes the base of their self esteem. And girls with a positive self esteem deal better with obstacles, critique and the pressures of the world (like the pressure to be pretty and sexy). Show them how happy they make you feel, how you appreciate what they do and how you love them always!
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Joanna Grzeszczak's blog, Lazy Mom's Blog. It has been republished here with permission.