When I was young, we didn’t talk about our bodies. Maybe it was a cultural thing or maybe it was just my family. As a mom of girls, I’m coming to realize how important it is to talk to my kids about their bodies. Because of some recent- and honestly quite jarring- conversations with my girls, I’m being more intentional about raising daughters with positive body image.
Girls’ Body Image Impressions Happen at a Young Age
Lately I’ve been noticing that my girls are almost obsessed with “fat”. And they’re only 6 years old! They see “fat” things everywhere: The fat stuffed animal in the check out aisle at the store. The fat cartoon character on TV. They crak=ck up with laughter at things that are “fat”. There’s a song their teacher plays at school called “subtraction cat“. They think it’s hilarious. Their little ears somehow misconstrued the lyrics to “the cat is fat” instead of “subtraction cat”. When they sing it, the song goes,
The cat is fat,
What’s up with that?
Don’t eat the mouse or you might get fat!
This is followed by uproarious laughter.
I guess I do talk a lot about eating food that is good for our bodies. But I always make the connection that good food helps our bones and muscles to grow strong. I’ve always done my best to keep the focus of the conversation on making healthy choices because they help you grow, and not because of calories or gaining weight.
The Mistakes I Made with My Girls and Body Image
I do worry that my kids are too skinny, and I worry about them not having enough meat on their bones. That’s probably how I might have screwed them up just a little bit.
My family had the stomach flu for a week. One of the girls had to be taken to the Emergency Room after 3 days of not being able to eat or drink anything. When she was feeling better I made a comment like, “I’m so glad you were able to eat dinner tonight. I was getting worried, your little arms and legs look so skinny after being sick for so long!”
I didn’t even think about how what I said might contribute to my young girl’s body image. But later that night as I was tucking her into bed she looked at me nervously and said, “Mommy am I still skinny?” Like being skinny was preferred. As if she was worried she might not be skinny anymore, now that she wasn’t sick.
Good Lord how do you respond to that? I don’t know what I said but I’m pretty sure I deflected the conversation to how happy I am that she’s healthy. Unfortunately, I didn’t address the important, glaring concern: My daughter wants to make sure she is skinny. My beautiful, perfect little kindergartener is worried about getting fat.
What I Know Now about Raising Daughters with Positive Body Image
That conversation with my daughter made me feel like I didn’t know how to talk to her about a young girl’s body image, and how it shouldn’t matter what shape you are on the outside. Here are some strategies I’m using to give them a more positive body image:
Talk about body image. This is one big thing that I hadn’t been doing. Talking about your bodies is such an important conversation to have with your kids. I have to be intentional about bringing up in conversation more often. We need to be having discussions about puberty before it hits. Body changes should be addressed and appreciated. I can’t just not talk about this stuff and hope that body image won’t become a problem when they’re teenagers.
This is how we were designed, and our design is perfect. As a Christian, I also want to emphasize that their Heavenly Father made them just the way they are. He made people of all shapes and sizes, and we are all beautiful to Him. Ephesians 2:10 says we are His workmanship, in Latin His poema, His poem. We are a masterpiece, something thing of beauty.
Set an example. A girl’s positive body image starts with her Mom. I’m not happy with my weight, and it’s possible that I’ve talked about dieting in front of my girls. I can’t be sure. But I know that now I have to watch what I say. After all, being kind to myself about my own body figure can only benefit my daughters and myself, right?
Listen to their concerns. Thankfully, my girls are still young and they aren’t critiquing their own bodies. But there will come a day when they’ll nitpick the parts of themselves that they aren’t happy with. When that happens, I want to hear them out. Acknowledge that they’re not happy with their body. I can even admit to them the parts of myself that I struggle with. But ultimately, I want to turn the conversation around and point out aspects about both of our bodies that are beautiful.
Celebrate women for their achievements. A woman has gifts that make her unique, unrelated to her body shape. Now more than ever I need to watch movies and read books about strong women with my girls.
Monitor and talk about media. My girls are still many years from being on social media, which gives me plenty of time to talk about how social media can give you a false sense of value. You are worth so much more than the number of likes and “thumbs-up” under your latest selfie pic. We will continue to have open conversations about how bodies are used in marketing and TV shows.
Communication is the Key to Raising Daughters with Positive Body Image
What it all boils down to is that we have to talk about these things with our kids. We have to keep lines of communication open, about all things, or they won’t want to come to us when life hits them hard.
I wonder how many moms have talked with their daughters about body image? What have you found that helps? Or that has contributed to a young girl’s negative body image? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below.