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When our precious baby girl was born into my hands on a chilly January night, I never would have imagined what having a daughter would entail. I wasn’t thinking about the pressures she would eventually have to deal with. Pressures to be thin, pretty, perfect. I was just holding this amazing miracle to my breast, wondering how she could ever question that she wasn’t beautiful just the way she was.
Flash-forward four years and now I’m researching about girls worrying about being ‘hot’ in Kindergarten. I look over at my sweet little girl playing with two hopping toads in the backyard and my eyes fill with tears. She’s so sweet- long blond hair tangled under a too-big sun hat, shirt covered in mud, mismatched Crocks beat-up and grass-covered. How can I bear this responsibility? How can I save her from all the pain of being ‘a girl’? How can I keep her just. like. this?
And I know, I can’t save her from everything. But I have started being proactive about preserving her innocence – even at age 4. Positive body image isn’t something we gain – it’s something we lose. We are born confident with our bodies – and if not confident, then clueless. Children happily prance around naked because they have no shame. And why should they? We are beautifully and wonderfully made. Very young children don’t question whether they have love handles or cellulite. They just are.
But somewhere along the way we shift. I can’t remember when I decided I was fat, but sometime in my 12th year of life I accepted it as truth. I was fat – fat and unattractive. And it took me years to grow through my obsessions with my physical appearance never being quite right. And I’m not alone – stats show that more than 85% of women refuse to ever call themselves ‘beautiful’.
There are so many influences that creep up along the path of life, and especially in those vulnerable pre-teens and teenage years. I recently did a run of Real Beauty Self-Esteem Workshops for Girls. What a joy to sit and chat with girls who are right in the heat of those formative years for self-esteem and confidence. I love that those workshops speak to girls starting as young as eight years old, because that’s when it’s needed.
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You simply can’t start speaking to a 14-year-old about body image issues because she’s already developed the ideas and attitudes that will contribute to how she values herself. We need to start young. Very young. I encourage Moms and Dads to be conscious of their daughter’s self-image from birth! Children are sponges, and they are a direct product of their daily environment. Everything they hear, see, experience – they’re all ingredients that mix into the bowl that becomes who they are. No matter how insignificant a comment, image, or experience may seem – it could shape her thoughts for years.
5 Steps to Preserving and Fostering Positive Self-Esteem in Girls:
1.) Value yourself. Moms – your daughers are watching you. They take cues from you. Once, when my daughter was 3, she commented that my ‘tummy was chubby’. I was a bit taken back that she’d even really notice – but I simple smiled and said, “Yep, a little bit, but I like my tummy because you and your brothers grew in there.” She giggled and it was done. Moms – some of the things that are most important are modesty, a love for our own bodies in whatever shape they’re in, and a desire to take care of ourselves for the sake of health. And please, never speak negatively about your body, especially in front of your daughters – they notice. They will follow your lead, so display a gracious thankfulness for the body you have and celebrate the amazing wonder of the female body!
2.) Form strong family bonds. Young girls look most vigorously at THEIR MOM for cues on how to evaluate at their own self-worth. Building a good relationship with our daughters built on trust and open communication keeps the doors open for talking, learning, and growing together. Encourage your daughter to talk to you about anything she wants to and be willing to listen and respond with unconditional love. Encourage your husband or your daughter’s father or a positive father-figure man in her life to lavish her with love, time, and compliments about her intelligence, abilities, and worth.
3.) Unplug your daughter. Media influences are among the most toxic for young girls and women alike. With the over-all message screaming, “SEXY AND RAUNCHY IS COOL AND POWERFUL!” girls are confused, scared, and extremely mislead about what it is to be a lady. Girls are becoming sexualized at such a young age. This year push-up Bikinis were launched by Abercrombie – for 8-YEAR-OLDS! From music videos to sit-coms, reality TV, to Hollywood – there are very few positive female role models who do not use sex to sell themselves. At age 4, our daughter is completely unplugged and sheltered from images of sexualized women and girls and it will remain this way for as long as I have a say. (We don’t have a TV and we home school, which both help A LOT!) Pop-culture wants to steal your child’s innocence. You have the power to stand in the way and fight back. Be aware of what your daughter sees – if she does see something negative or confusing, talk about it and keep talking about it.
4.) Don’t make it about your daughter’s appearance. Our daughter often gets a lot of comments like, “Oh, what beautiful hair you have!”, and “What a lovely dress – of you’re so pretty!”. I’m grateful for people’s kindness but I also cringe at the focus on physical beauty. Why is it such a focal point? Is it that we don’t have much else to say? I notice that many people will compliment a child on ‘how cute’ they are, but rarely enter into a conversation with the child; learning about what kind of a person they are, what they like, dislike, etc. I’d encourage parents (Moms!) to not intentionally doll their daughters up. Let them wear what they want, when they want. They shouldn’t be on display. Often the first expectations placed on our daughter to ‘look just right’ are put on by their own Mother,
Grandmother, etc. Be tuned in and aware of situations where the focus is too much on appearance – this starts as young as newborn.
5.) Encourage confidence-building activities that do not focus on physical appearance. It’s been proven by several research efforts that sports like Gymnastics, Dance, and Cheer-leading can often be more damaging than positive for young girls. The focus on competitive sport combined with physical perfection takes a toll on impressionable young girls, leading to huge problems with self-esteem, eating disorders, depression, and worse. If you want your daughter enrolled in extra-curricular activities, consider sports like Soccer, Baseball, or arts-based programs, such as theatre, music, volunteering, or visual arts to help build communication skills and self-expression in a positive way.
I encourage all Mothers to not despair. Sometimes, when we look at all the giant obstacles in the way of raising healthy, happy, well-rounded, confident girls – it feels hopeless! It isn’t. The world is full of wonderfully self-assured young women. But these young women all have one significant thing in common – they had a Mom, Dad, or special mentor who cared enough about them to invest the time and energy into preserving and building their self-esteem. We have the power to change the world, one girl at a time. Whether your daughter is young or old, or maybe you don’t have a daughter – but you can mentor someone – I pray you will hold tight to the value of true femininity, and God’s love for us. We are made by a wonderful Creator who makes no mistakes, and we all have value far greater than any of us can ever fully understand.
About the author:
Cassandra’s blog covers many topics including family, faith, unplugging, media awareness, and fighting pop-culture. In addition to being an avid blogger, Cassandra is a homeschooling Mom to three children. She also is the founder of the Think Media Project, where she hopes to raise awareness about how the Media affects family, community, and our lives.
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