by Lauren Barnes, Ph.D., LMFT
Growing up in our culture can be daunting–especially as a girl. I felt like I was always receiving messages about how I should feel, act and look. “You shouldn’t wear orange if you’re a red head.” “Always cross your ankles and never your legs.” “Never go out in public without makeup.” “Never speak your mind because it might be offensive to somebody.” There were a lot of silent messages, too. I would be standing in line at the grocery checkout and notice all of the magazines with girls with perfect, tan skin, with their collar bones visible and figured that’s what I would need to look like to be considered beautiful in our society. Luckily, I had a great mother to counteract these false definitions of beauty.
My mom trained me about beauty from a young age. She would often comment on how grossly skinny some girls were. Or she’d mention that I looked beautiful. Anytime she’d hear me commenting about how wide my hips were or how upset I was about the size of my breasts, she’d remind me that I was beautiful and that my body was a gift from God. She also taught me about the importance of looking like a real woman with curves and how part of our purpose as women is to bring children into the world. Without real hips, breasts, fat storage etc. this wouldn’t be possible.
My parents have always been affectionate with each other. I remember my dad always complimenting my mom on how beautiful she was. My mom and dad would go out on fancy dates at least once a month where my mom would wear a silk blouse, skirt and stilettos and put on some flashy lipstick. I always thought she looked beautiful. The funny thing is, my mom isn’t exactly tan nor was she a size 2. She knew how to take care of herself and her body and she had confidence that radiated beauty.
My mom is definitely the one who provided the foundation for my definition of beauty to come about. Without the great example of my mother and regular conversations with her regarding healthy body image, wellness and beauty, I would still be very confused and trying to figure out how to fit in. Mothers (and fathers) have such a huge impact on shaping their children’s definition of beauty. Abigail H. Natenshon wrote, “Parents who maintain healthy attitudes about their own bodies, who model healthy eating behaviors, and who provide nutritious food for their family, preparing, serving, and sitting down to eat meals together with children as frequently as is possible, virtually immunize their child from developing eating problems.” I thought of a few things that my parents did and wanted to share them with you. Obviously, these tips aren’t fool proof, but they will definitely provide a great base from which you can learn and grow.
Here are some tips for Mothers to help influence their daughters’ definitions of beauty:
- Never demean your own body. People can tell if you aren’t satisfied with your body. It will radiate in how you carry yourself, talk, act, what situations you avoid etc.
- Respect your body. Don’t fall for the fad diets or other tricks that suck you into the unhealthy body ideal of today.
- Encourage a wellness lifestyle. Do exercises that you enjoy. Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Be aware of how you may be getting caught in the American ideal for beauty. For example, don’t purposefully buy clothes that are a smaller size and then use them as motivation to get smaller.
- Be aware of comments you make regarding other’s appearance and/or eating habits. Never joke, shame or make comments about other’s body size and/or eating habits. These off-hand comments may be the most memorable for your children.
- Talk openly with your daughter about body image and beauty regularly. Help her distinguish between what’s real and what’s not. Help her have realistic expectations of beauty for herself and others.
- Help your daughter have a vision for her future that goes beyond her appearance. Help her find hobbies and activities she enjoys and establish goals with her. Encourage her in the activities she enjoys.
- Pay attention to comments your daughter makes about her body and appearance. Listen and be empathic. Although some comments may be irrational, she still genuinely feels this way. Be there as a person for her to talk to. Engage her in a conversation about what she thinks she could do to improve her body, health, ability to do certain things etc. and how she plans to do this.
- Teach your daughter that there is no such thing as the “ideal” body. Beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
- Encourage your daughter to be aware of and share her feelings instead of harboring them in her body. Young children, especially, tend to manifest anxiety and other stressors in the form of stomach and other body aches.
- Discourage extreme behaviors such as sleeping too long, too little or too late, dieting, exercising too much or too little. This will help her feel better in her body.
- Help her have a respect for the many amazing functions and purposes her body serves.
- Praise your daughter for who she is, not how she looks. Find non-materialistic things to compliment her on such as her ability to get along with so many people, her dedication in work, her passion etc.
About the Author:
Dr. Lauren Barnes is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has worked at BYU Women’s Services and Resource Center and specializes in treating women’s issues such as body image, eating disorders, and relationship concerns. Dr. Barnes is also a therapist for Center for Change, one of the top eating disorder treatment centers in the world.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Barnes at Utah Valley Counseling, please call 801.407.4134