Raising our girls to love their bodies

We are at that point where we have entered the copy stage. It’s cute and amusing at the same time to watch Carli do all the things she has picked up from me. One of her favorite toys is her toy vacuum, probably because she watches me vacuum the floors constantly. I’m ashamed to admit that because she watches everything I do she is also a pro at using my iphone and ipad. She fully understands how to watch videos, make online purchases (one-click ordering isn’t so great when you have a toddler) and has made FaceTime calls to people I haven’t talked to in years at 6:00AM (sorry to anyone she has done that to recently).

Because I am mostly at stay at home mom (I work 1.5 days per week), Carli watches me get ready in the morning. Now she loves putting on lip gloss, brushing her hair and looking in the mirror. I didn’t realize that most mornings when I’m getting ready I tend to check out my body in the mirror. Carli caught on though, and one morning shortly after Christmas I found her in front of my cousin’s full length mirror checking out her tummy and bottom- just like I (shamefully) sometimes do in front of her. It was reality check, and also a reminder of how influential a mother’s view of her own body can have on her daughter.

Now that I have a daughter, I can’t help but not notice the statistics. Body dissatisfaction starts at such a young age it’s disturbing. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 70% of 6-12 year olds want to be thinner and according to a study conducted by Duke University, 40% of all 9-10 year-old girls have already been on a diet. Implications of poor body image and dieting at such a young age include increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder, lower self-esteem, depression, and are even more likely to become obese as adults. But what causes our girls to feel this way? Is it just the media, or can the environment they’re raised in also shape the way they feel about their bodies?

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These statistics are mostly blamed on the media. The average model is much thinner than a typical sized woman, and flaws are easily covered by airbrushing and photoshop. I agree that the media plays a big role in young girls’ desire to be thinner or go on a diet, but I also think that the most influential people in these girls’ lives can change the way they perceive their self-image. What conversations are we having with our girls about body image, and how are we helping to promote their self-esteem?

It starts at home, and both mom and dad play a part. As mothers, WE have to feel confident in our own skin. If we are constantly talking about how fat we look today, the number on the scale, the 5-day detox diet we want to go on to lose weight fast- our girls are going to pick up on that! We are their biggest role models and need to make peace with our bodies and food so that our girls can too. This does not mean that it’s okay to make poor dietary choices and consume excess calories from nutrient-void foods because we are okay with our body size. These are not healthy behaviors either. It means that we are an example to our girls, eating healthy balanced meals and not jumping from one fad diet to the next to lose weight. It means that we exercise to feel good about ourselves and to stay healthy, not solely to burn calories. Help your girls understand the difference between foods that are nutritious and should be consumed regularly (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins) and foods that are okay to have as a treat but not on a regular basis (sweets, snack foods). Don’t label foods good or bad.

Dad’s role is just as important. Is he making comments about how “sexy” or “beautiful” women in the media are? Is he on mom to lose weight and telling her she should go on a diet? A father’s opinion of what a woman’s body should look like is the first a little girl will be exposed to, and that perception will mold her view of what her own figure should look like to please men.

Kids need to feel secure in their own skin. I think the worst thing we can do is stigmatize kids who are overweight, this usually results in weight gain, dieting, and body dissatisfaction- all issues that can eventually lead to obesity in adulthood. I work in pediatrics and not all kids that the BMI charts classify as “overweight” or even “obese” look to be at an unhealthy weight. Some pediatricians may recommend restricting calories, but I disagree. Instead, having an approach in the home that encourages healthy eating and exercise will not only help kids to be at a healthy weight but will also be one of the many keys to promote healthy body image. The verbiage we use around young girls is so important. Use words like “strong,” “smart” “creative” and “beautiful”- avoid using adjectives like “thin” “big” “tiny” and “stocky”. Even telling your daughter she is small may make her feel pressured into staying that way- something that can lead to restrictive behaviors to avoid weight gain.

As a mother, what I want Carli to understand is that most importantly God made her to be unique from everyone else, and that is so special. He designed every detail of her body and although she is beautiful on the outside, her heart is what’s most important. The love she exudes to others, her compassion, her desire to worship Jesus instead of her own body- that is a much more purposeful way to live.

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© Holli Hamby Photography

Luke 16:15- He said to them, “You are the ones whole justify yourselves in the eye of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”