I hate my hair. It is too curly. It is too straight. I hate my thighs. My boobs are too small. My boobs are too big. I’m too short. I’m too tall.
Sound familiar? Sadly, these kinds of statements seem even more present today than they were 20 years ago. And, they are showing up in the conversations of girls at an earlier and earlier age. My friend’s four-year-old daughter recently announced she couldn’t eat the healthy dinner in front of her, because she was fat and eating wouldn’t be good for her figure. True story.
We don’t want to criticize, push, or minimize, and we definitely don’t want to do anything to reduce self-esteem or create an unhealthy relationship with food. We want to soothe and encourage. But how do we do that? How in the world do we talk to our daughters in a helpful way about their bodies without the fear that we are fostering an eating disorder, or a lifetime of body issues? There are so many messages that tell us what not to do and they can leave us paralyzed without any clear options!
Here are some ideas:
1. Acknowledge the challenges and talk about them openly.
Our daughters are under constant pressure to look a certain way and the messages from advertisers are strong and seem believable. Pick up a fashion magazine, look at the images in social media, turn on the TV, walk through your local mall and you quickly get an overview of the pressure our girls live with every day.
So make sure to have conversations with your daughters to let them know that you understand what that pressure feels like, and how you manage some of those pressures in your own life. Express empathy for the journey of learning to love yourself.
2. Broaden your daughter’s exposure to women with all kinds of body types, sizes and shapes (who are also in powerful and meaningful positions).
The world is full of actresses, musicians, writers, business women, political activists, scientists, mothers, and other cool women doing cool things. Their accomplishments aren’t measured by the shape of their hips or thighs. Help your daughter see and appreciate the variety found in women, and in the joy of living and doing, rather than focusing on the shape of the body we live in.
3. Tell her she’s beautiful in ways she has not thought about or is certainly not being lauded for in our popular culture.
Praise the qualities within her that you admire and understand are important in life. Expand your own definition of beauty and let it flow out in your speech. Rather than always say "Your hair looks gorgeous like that," try saying something like this: "That was a beautiful thing you did when you helped your brother." Or “Your generosity/kindness/compassion for others is beautiful."
In other words, emphasize that beauty is in the things we do and the qualities we embody in life, not how we physically look. This helps to encourage the realization that beautiful women are all around her, and they don’t need to look like the latest magazine cover.
4. Encourage healthy balanced living.
Rather than focusing on what popular media say we should look like, make a commitment to change the conversation a bit. Begin to talk about how living a healthy lifestyle is a gift of love to our bodies. For example, talk about increasing your water intake because it is such a healthy thing to do; how eating a balanced meal can make you feel energized; why practicing portion control will keep your weight in check.
And remember: indulging in a treat on special occasions or celebrations can be part of your conscious choices and is perfectly acceptable. Above all, always encourage self-acceptance, inner peace and stillness with a practice of positive perspective, meditation and mindfulness.
5. Make exercise fun! Move your bodies together.
I’m not talking about a regimented workout schedule that must be kept (no one wants to get stuck in that routine!). But what about integrating movement into daily living? And make it fun, a bonding activity, rather than another thing to check off the to-do list.
Exercise programs that stick are fun and enjoyable. So encourage the pursuit of wellness, fun and energy, rather than the pursuit of the perfect body. Have a dance off after dinner and learn the latest moves. Practice a sport you both enjoy. Walk together and talk about the day. Moving our bodies and feeling the strength within them helps us be comfortable and believe that they are the beautiful temples that they truly are.
6. Be a role model (and make sure all this uplifting talk is shown through your actions).
I cannot over emphasize this: Learn to love your own body! Speak kindly and gently about yourself. Our daughters learn from us every day by what we do and say. No magazine, movie star, or TV show have the power that you do. You are the real role model they look up to.
So ask yourself: do they see you being gentle and loving with yourself? Those thighs of your own … learn to love them for getting you from place to place. We only get one body and yours is magnificent!