It happened again. I witnessed one of my gorgeous female friends joking to her daughter that she didn’t like her own body.
“Let’s face this way,” she said to her 5-year-old, “So I don’t have to see myself in the mirror.”
Let’s put aside that 10 out of 10 random people would call this woman beautiful. Let’s not focus on how she’s educated, accomplished, adventurous, and athletic. All of that is true, but the thing is, even if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t matter. Her child would still see her as the most beautiful amazing person in the world — a queen.
Your wise child knows you — yes, you — are beautiful and powerful. Until you teach them otherwise.
And when you teach them you don’t love yourself, it’s their own self-esteem that suffers.
Author/advice columnist Cheryl Strayed, in Tiny Beautiful Things — Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, writes,
“When my daughter was five she overheard me complaining to Mr. Sugar that I was a big fat ugly beast who looks terrible in everything and immediately she asked with surprise, ‘You’re a big fat ugly beast who looks terrible in everything?”
‘No! I was only joking!’ I exclaimed in a falsely cheerful tone. Then I proceeded to pretend, for the sake of my daughter’s future self-esteem, that I did not believe myself to be a big fat ugly beast who looks terrible in everything.”
We all have self-deprecating feelings sometimes. But Strayed is right: if we can believe, or at least pretend, we love our bodies, our daughters’ self-esteem will benefit.
I’ve written before about how nearly half of 3- to 6-year-old girls worry about being fat. And nearly 1/3 of children ages 5 to 6 choose an ideal body size that is thinner than their current perceived size.
How To Help Kids Love Their Bodies
Nearly half of 3- to 6-year-old girls worry about being fat.
Do you want this to change? I sure do.
No parent can single-handedly change a culture that tells us our stomachs need to be flatter, our lips plumper, our hair silkier, our boobs perkier. No, you can’t change the entire culture. But the good news is you really can positively affect your children’s self-esteem and body image, just by speaking kindly about your own body.
A study in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology — titled Am I too fat to be a princess? — found 5- to 8-year-olds who think their moms are dissatisfied with their bodies are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own bodies.
This means, children who think their moms are satisfied with their bodies are more likely to feel satisfied with their own bodies.
This week, when this mom commented in front of her daughter — and my daughter as well — that she didn’t want to see herself in the mirror, I wanted to say something.
I wanted to tell her not just that I think she’s gorgeous, but that her amazing daughter thinks she is. I wanted to tell her about the research showing the power of talking positively about our own bodies. I wanted to tell her I’m sorry she doesn’t always love her body, and I totally understand.
I wanted to tell her fake it till you make it really works. Since I starting speaking lovingly about my body, for my daughter’s sake, I’ve grown to love it more. I still have moments of weakness, but they’re less frequent, and I’m able to shield my daughter from them.
Children who think their moms are satisfied with their bodies are more likely to feel satisfied with their own bodies.
My daughter is 5 years old, and she loves her body. She loves how her body can jump like a frog, climb piles of boulders, dig in the mud, and twirl in sparkly clothes.
I remember my own mother’s self-deprecating body talk throughout my childhood (which she has since apologized for). I remember obsessively thinking, “Everybody says I look like my mom. And my mom says she’s not beautiful. She says she needs to lose weight. She says she needs to blow-dry her curls away. She says she should be wearing makeup, but she’s too lazy. I guess I’m not beautiful either. Unless maybe I can figure out how to change myself.”
For me, these memories were enough to make me never speak this way in front of my daughter. For the moms out there who haven’t yet made this connection, I hope this essay will be enough for you.
You are beautiful. Your children love to look at you, to dance with you, to be held by your strong, lovely body. They hope they’ll grow up to be just like you.