In this time when our bodies are portrayed as imperfect and unworthy, learn how you can help your daughters find their own real beauty in an unrealistic world.
When my daughter was 8 years old, she told me that a boy in her class said she was “sexy.” This incident shocked me into an awareness of the world’s view of beauty and how children today are being inundated with a skewed sense of what pretty means. I recognized that my sweet, innocent daughter was already feeling the pressure of being thin. We discussed this and she returned to school with instructions to tell this boy that she was beautiful, not sexy. When that same daughter, at age 9, reported that a boy told her she was “hot,” I realized I was facing a challenge of global proportions.
The media is reaching into the very heart of our homes and classrooms with its unhealthy and abnormal images and expectations of beauty.
Take a look at the dolls and toys created in the past decade. Barbie has received her fair share of controversy and digital cosmetic enhancements, nips, and tucks to create a completely inaccurate portrayal of a woman.
Then Bratz dolls were developed. The dolls thrived with their inappropriate dress and skewed body shapes. And more have joined the ranks.
Times have changed, and so have the general body shapes for most children’s toys. Even Strawberry Shortcake dolls are taller and thinner than the original doll from the late ’70s. Dora, Rainbow Brite, and many other beloved characters have had to get a makeover and digital cosmetic surgery to stay “current.”
Because the attack on our self-image is very focused, strong countermeasures need to be taken now to help our children see their bodies not as a burden but as a gift from their loving Heavenly Father. Use these eight tips to help your children have a healthier self-image.
1. Encourage positive self-image.
I explained to my daughter that many times when people don’t feel confident, they degrade themselves aloud, hoping someone will disagree with them and make them feel better. The concept of “fishing for compliments” gets worse when children internalize what the media is teaching them about beauty.
Parents can make a difference by recognizing the need to define beauty for their children and praise them appropriately. Parents can also teach them that it’s okay to feel good about themselves and love their body. It doesn’t mean they are prideful; it’s being thankful for a gift from God.
2. Focus on being healthy.
In my own quest to overcome a serious health issue, I changed my eating habits and lost some weight. My husband followed the strict health guidelines with me, and he also lost weight. My children were aware of family members and friends who commented on the weight that we had lost and how good we looked. We took this opportunity to emphasize how much better we felt because we were healthy. We talked about how we had more energy and felt happier because our physical bodies weren’t in pain.
As a parent, take special care to step around the words skinny and thin and replace those with healthy and fit. Talk with your children about how being healthy is more important than the number on the scale.
3. Don’t be afraid to talk about healthy weight.
Talking openly helped me realize just how aware my 10-year-old daughter was of her weight. I’ve had several great conversations with her as she shared with me her concerns that other girls in her class weighed 10–15 pounds less than she did. (On a side note, I felt it was unbelievable that these girls were sharing how much they weighed at such a young age, already comparing.)
I explained to my daughter the difference between height and frame—she is one of the tallest kids in her class, and I remember that feeling all too well. We talked about how everyone grows at a different rate, how boys will eventually be taller than her, and how she shouldn’t compare herself to someone who will likely be 7 to 10 inches shorter than her at full maturity.
Take time to help your child understand that we are all different, yet all of us were created in the image of God. Teach a lesson about comparison, then ask your children to think about how Heavenly Father views them and how He wants them to live a healthy and happy life.
4. Teach your child it’s okay to love their body type.
I take care to praise my daughter’s specific body type and also tell her the things I love about my body. I explained to her that, with a dad who is 6' 2" and a mom who is 5' 7", she will likely always be tall, and that’s a great thing because that is her body. This was a good time to think about how often we find fault with different areas of our body and how detrimental that can be.
Focus on how you talk about your body and make an effort to be positive. Your example teaches your children how they should feel about their own body. Share pictures with your children of their parents and grandparents when they were similar ages. Encourage them to be excited about their future growth and development while enjoying the stage they are currently in.
5. Encourage positive extended family dialogue.
Grandmas, aunts, and cousins can be an influence for good in teaching children positive self-image. After hearing my grandma praise one of her granddaughters several times about how thin she was, I called and asked her if she might openly praise some other qualities that her granddaughters have. This was an easy conversation for me because I have a great relationship with my grandma, and I knew she loved many things about the grandkids.
Many of us fall into the trap of continually praising girls on their looks and boys on their athletic abilities. You can lead out the praise in family gatherings by noting specific talents and abilities that relatives are blessed with beyond their looks.
6. Discuss media, toys, games, and other influences that are promoting sexy as the norm.
You might be surprised just how much your children notice at a very young age. Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker, professor of psychology, says, “For girls, looking at fashion magazines that promote a ‘thin’ ideal and watching prime-time television and music videos with sexualized images are closely linked to depressive symptoms and low self-esteem. For both boys and girls, the more time they spend engaging with media, the lower their grades and the less contentment they express, especially related to who they are and their everyday lives.”
To address this issue, you could open a discussion by asking children how they think their dolls should be dressed. If you happen to own a toy that is conveying a negative or skewed image, use it as a tool to have this discussion and offer to replace it with an appropriate toy or game.
7. Help children understand what defines real beauty.
This isn’t just the talk about how beauty is only skin deep. This is the discussion where you give your child the tools to recognize their own divine heritage, individual worth, and priceless self-identity.
When my children witnessed an inappropriate commercial on television, I took the opportunity to dispel the lies being portrayed by asking a few simple questions. Does Heavenly Father want us to be happy? We’ve learned that by choosing the right we can be happy. Do you think that the people in that commercial are really happy? Why or why not?
8. Cut down on the number of images that your child consumes.
Through all of the discussions I’ve had with my children about positive self-image, I’ve recognized that a strong, creative mind is necessary to combat Satan’s tactics to destroy self-worth. With a vivid imagination and outlets to utilize creativity, children can step away from the parameters the media has set and learn the expectations our Heavenly Father has for them.
I asked my children to draw me a picture about beauty. The activity served as a reminder that we can create our own “media influence” in our home, so that real beauty is all around us. My girls drew pictures of flowers, trees, hearts, birds, and landscapes, while my younger boys drew some trucks and monsters. I found it interesting that the only people in their drawings were themselves enjoying the beauty they had created.
Assess how much time your child spends watching television, playing video games, using the computer, and playing on smartphones and other electronic devices. Then consider that we are exposed to hundreds of images for every hour we use these devices.
How do these negative images affect our children’s growing minds? Lexie and Linsday Kite explain the phenomenon of “the normalization of abnormal.” Since we’ll see so many more images of women in media than we’ll ever see face-to-face, those images form a new standard for not just beautiful but also average and healthy in our minds. When women compare themselves to a standard of beautiful, average, and healthy that simply doesn’t exist in real life, the battle for healthy body image is already lost.
Your daughter is aware of her body. You can be assured that by age 6, she will already have had enough outside influences to notice her body compared to others. The important point here is to teach our children how to love and honor their bodies. Help them recognize yet another master plan of the adversary, step away from what media portrays, and cherish their bodies—one of the greatest gifts God has given us on earth.