I came across a devastating statistic this week which stated that by age 13, 53% of girls are unhappy with their bodies and this number grows to 78% by the time girls are 17! How can we, as mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and teachers work to reduce these numbers and replace these negative thoughts and beliefs with ones that support body image and overall self-esteem?
As we’ve established previously, our own attitudes and beliefs about our bodies, our appearance, our weight, and our shape can influence the way our children and anyone who looks up to us as role models, think about and see their own bodies. Understandably, it can be very difficult to always be positive about how we look, but it is nevertheless critical that we try not to criticize our appearance. For example, saying things such as “I’m so fat” or “I feel fat” or “this makes me look fat”, etc. when around young girls only reinforces the misconception that our physical presentation is what is most valuable. Rather, trying to find something else about ourselves or our bodies that we can praise on occasion can go a long way to helping girls feel more comfortable in their bodies. Negative speech, attitudes, and behaviors only breed more negativity in both behavior and emotion.
Further, it is also essential to praise things about ourselves and our daughters that are NOT related to appearance in any way. Through the use of these kinds of comments, our daughters understand that there are many ways to be valued and that our appearance is not the only way or even the most important way, for us to appreciate our bodies. We must instead recognize our bodies for all the wonderful and important things they do for us, not just for how they outwardly look. Our bodies carry us, carry our children, build muscle, build endurance, heal themselves, provide signals when we are in danger or in need of food or drink, store our memories, store our emotions, and give us so much more. Focusing instead on all these amazing things our bodies can do, removes appearance related stress and pressure.
Another way to create body positivity is to work to create an atmosphere in our homes that is one where negative body and appearance comments are discouraged and unwelcome. It is important to not greet people with comments about how they look, but instead with things that are not appearance related. Some examples might include saying things such as how nice it is to see someone as it’s been so long, or commenting on something you’ve missed specifically about that person, or perhaps something you’re excited to hear about that they’ve experienced. Sadly, it has been ingrained in us from a very young age that when we see someone often the first comment we make is about appearance. We say things such as, “you look so lovely” or “you look so thin” or “your outfit is so slenderizing”, etc. While there is no malice or ill intent in saying these things, they nevertheless reinforce the importance of physical appearance and its value above all else.
Ultimately though, we need to teach our children that a person’s worth is tied to their personal qualities, middos if you will, and not their physical appearance. Complimenting others for non-appearance related qualities in front of our children while also promoting healthy, strong bodies over thin or skinny ones, can go a long way in increasing body and self-image, as it is no longer the yardstick by which their value is measured. Children who are confident and have good feelings about themselves are less likely to develop body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. Helping your child build good general self-esteem is also likely to help your child be resilient to pressures from others and maintain healthy eating patterns.
Stay tuned for more practical and usable strategies for helping our children develop better body image and greater self-esteem.