Teaching Our Daughters to Develop a Positive Body Image
Last weekend I took my girls on an all-female retreat with about 200 other moms and daughters ages 5 to 75. There were tall girls, short girls, blonde girls, brunette girls, spunky girls, quiet girls, and everything in between girls. And you know what? They were all amazing.
I just wonder if they know it.
With two daughters in my house, I’m keenly aware of the messages our culture sends about how girls ought to look and what they ought to care about. Some of those messages are aligned with our family values, but many aren’t. As Christian moms, you and I have a vital opportunity to help shape how our daughters view themselves in spite of what the world says. Here are five helpful tips I’ve discovered through experience.
Tell her she’s beautiful. Parents hold the first—and perhaps longest lasting—influence over how a child sees herself. Are we telling our girls they’re lovely inside and out? Are they hearing affirmation from us such that they won’t need to seek it elsewhere, from people who might not have their best interests at heart? I’m not talking about puffing up a girl’s ego, but rather pointing up to the One who created her uniquely beautiful. Every child is wonderfully made by a perfect God, and He does not fashion junk. Let’s make sure our kids know their value lies in the worth of their Creator who formed them on purpose for a purpose—and He loves them unconditionally, just the way they are.
Focus on health, not looks. In our house, the word “fat” is off limits. When my girls beg for too much candy, I say no—but never with the explanation that candy and ice cream and soda will change their appearance. I don’t want them to develop a fear of food like I had in my youth. Instead I tell them too much junk food is bad for their health. It causes tummy aches. It gives them cavities and makes their bodies sluggish. Treat in moderation are fine (heaven knows I indulge in my share as well!), but we need to balance sweets with broccoli and oranges because why? They give us vitamins, fiber and energy! Never because the sweets will “make you fat.”
Encourage modesty—without shame. This is a tricky one. We want to teach our girls to respect their bodies yet not be ashamed of their God-designed femininity, especially as they’re developing womanly figures. So I give my daughters guidelines for what to wear—shorts not too short, shirts not too tight, cover your tushy and conceal your bra straps—but not because their bodies are something to hide or be embarrassed about. Rather, I tell them we want the world to see they are more than just a body. They’re also smart, kind, fun and faithful. And some day the right guy will fall for all of that great stuff—then their bodies will be a gift to him without shame in the way God intended.
Model it. If we want our daughters to accept their size, shape and features as God’s masterpiece, then we ought to start by accepting our own. How often do we moms complain about our own looks? Our hair, height, weight, nose, ankles, complexion or feet—oh my goodness, why did God give me these feet?!? When our girls hear us cutting ourselves down, they’re learning it’s okay to dislike themselves. Let’s model a positive body image by embracing our own temples as God’s beautiful design—stretch marks and all.
Get involved. Finally, let’s take an active interest in our daughters’ beauty and self image. We can show our support by taking our girls shopping and encouraging them to choose clothing and shoes that express their own style. Schedule hair appointments for your daughter and experiment together with new hairstyles, braids, headbands and up-dos. Start a shared Pinterest board of favorite fashions. Do each other’s nails and so on. If our girls know we care enough to walk alongside them and cheerlead their choices, they’ll be more likely to come to us when they’re doubting their beauty and worth.
And we’ll get the privilege of reminding them who—and whose—they are.
“You are altogether beautiful, my darling. There is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7)
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