Body image is something many women have struggled with. We look in the mirror and see all the imperfections, some real and some imagined. We think our legs are too fat instead of noticing how strong and muscular they are. Wrinkles, pimples, flabby arms, too tall, too short, too thin, too heavy – you name it, we can find it. Negative thoughts build, leading us to unhealthy habits, like yo-yo dieting, overly restricting our food choices, or overeating.
Is it any surprise that our young daughters often feel the same way about themselves?
In fact, around 80% of 10-year-old girls fear becoming fat, and many of them have already dieted to try to lose weight. They diet, not because they need to, but because of a flawed view of themselves – a poor body image.
I’ve struggled with it myself. From the time I acquired the nickname “Chubs” as a child to well into adulthood I thought of myself as fat or heavy. As a teenager I tried many diets. The thing was it didn’t make me feel any better about myself. But I’ve gotten older and become more comfortable in my own skin as my faith has grown.
So as a parent of two daughters it’s always been important for my husband and me to raise them with a healthy body image, and we took steps to try to accomplish that. But, now that they’re eighteen and twelve, I wanted to know how they truly felt about their body. So I asked them.
My twelve-year-old feels good about her body because she’s healthy and can do the things she wants to do, like play basketball and have fun with her friends. My eighteen year old answered similarly about being healthy and active. But she also mentioned that, because of her interest in graphic arts and knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator, she’s not influenced much by what she sees on magazine covers and ads. She knows the photos don’t accurately depict what the model looks like because they’ve been changed – wrinkles erased, thighs slimmed down, waists made smaller. The mom in me was so glad to hear what they had to say.
Since then I’ve had it on my heart to share what my husband and I did to help our daughters have the healthy body image they have today.
1. Focus on health – While I want my kids to eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight, I didn’t want them to be consumed with dieting and weight. Our focus has always been on being healthy, not attaining a certain weight. Remember – weight is a measure of health and not a measure of who you are as a person.
2. Be an example – Even though I struggled with a poor body image, I was careful not to obsess about my own weight or appearance in front of my girls. Our kids watch us and hear what we say. If we’re constantly thinking our own bodies are flawed, our kids will pick up on that and imitate us by thinking their bodies are flawed.
3. Watch your words – We try hard not to allow our kids to say snide remarks about one another’s weight. If they do, we talk about it and discuss it. Remember – words are powerful.
4. Limit the media – Media is a huge influence in the lives of our kids. When they see extremely thin models on magazine covers or ads it makes them think they need to be like that. It feeds the desire to be thinner and stirs within them a dissatisfaction with their own body. So get rid of those magazines and find more positive influences. Show them videos of how photos of models are changed so they know what they’re looking at isn’t real. Godvine has one here showing how four women were Photoshopped to look like models and shows their reaction when shown the photos.
5. Keep communication open – Talk with them about the changes going on in their bodies during the adolescent years and even before that. Always invite them to talk with you about any concerns they have about their bodies. Ask them how they feel about themselves and their bodies.
6. Give them affirmation – Your girls need to hear they are beautiful because of who they are inside, not based on what they look like. Go ahead and tell them they’re beautiful when they’re all dressed up, but be sure and tell them they’re beautiful when they’re all messed up too. Emphasize that beauty comes from within – because it does.
7. Reinforce their identity – As parents we’ve always stressed to our kids how important they were because they were made by God. They are special and beautiful because they are made in His image and God doesn’t make mistakes. They should take care of themselves and respect the body God gave them because He loves them and wants them to be healthy. Their identity is in Christ – not in their weight or what they look like.
Fostering a healthy body image in our daughters takes thoughtfulness, action, and a lot of prayer. These are things my husband and I have done (and still are doing) to help our daughters grow and mature into adults with a healthy body image.
How have you helped your daughters navigate their way to a healthy body image? Please share your thoughts and comments below. I’d love to read them. If you’ve enjoyed this post please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter.