Fifty percent of American girls report using unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives to control their weight.
It’s a startling fact, especially if you have girls. I myself have two daughters and it’s my mission in life to raise them to be confident in who they are, regardless of how they look. I want to raise them to focus on health, not weight. Strength, not skin and bones. Exercise for health, not weight loss. And to use food as a fuel for our bodies to do amazing things.
While I am concerned about the media’s influence on my daughters’ body image and wish that we could see real people of all shapes and sizes grace magazine covers without the use of Photoshop, I also know that I cannot control the marketing machines. I cannot control everything my daughters grows up seeing. It’s everywhere, from TV, the internet, magazine covers in the grocery store and even the playground.
So instead of blindfolding them to the world, I have chosen to instill a level on confidence that hopefully will one day be invincible to the negative feedback they see around them.
I am a strong proponent of raising self-confident, independent and strong daughters. These are my top five tricks:
- Focus on inner beauty, not outer. From the time they were born I’ve told my daughters how strong they are, how smart they are, how one is such a sweet person, a good friend, a caring big sister, etc. Yes, I do tell them they are beautiful but I do not focus on that. I focus on all the qualities that make them great people.
- Select toys that teach. I am not a fan of Barbie. I don’t hate Barbie, but I would prefer that my girls not grow up identifying with a fictional picture of what marketers think is the perfect body. There are so many other toys that broaden their horizons.
- Find real role models. I do not want my daughters idolizing celebrities, or even professional athletes. They all seem to fall and unravel at some point. I want them to look up to real people who can encourage them to be real, amazing adults. I want them looking up to someone they can touch and talk with, learn from and ask questions. Someone who can guide them. A teacher, a coach, a grandparent, aunt, uncle … and of course myself.
- Keep them involved in activities. I want to expose my daughters to different activities so they can choose their own passion. If they focus on their passion, they will be less likely to focus on the more superficial things in life. There are certain activities/sports for girls that do have a strong focus on body image, but I hope to balance that. One of mine likes to dance. I want her dancing and playing a sport that focuses on her strength. I also want her doing something that brings out her leadership skills. Again, something that is not focused on body image, but skills and abilities.
- Model positive body image. I will never, nor will I ever talk about weight around my daughters. They do not need to hear my self-loathing. They do not need to hear me talk about the latest diet or how I need to lose weight. They think I am perfect the way I am, so I will encourage them to think that about me and about themselves. And for the record, I am not on any diet, I choose to generally stay in shape so there is no need. When I exercise, I tell them I do it because it’s healthy. We talk about healthy behaviors. They don’t need to learn self-doubt from me.
I myself grew up fairly confident. My own mother only spoke about weight, when she thought I looked too skinny. My participation in athletics made me want to be stronger, faster or taller, not skinny or weak. I thank her for instilling a healthy body image in myself and hope that although my daughters are young, I can instill in them an unbreakable confidence that allows them to thrive and not get sidelined by superficial body image issues.
Confident daughters need confident mothers, even if we don’t always feel that way.