Today I discuss female body image, share my own experiences with body dissatisfaction, and recommend books that can help parents manage body image issues and raise girl warriors with positive body images.
Body image – It’s a hard-hitting topic for us females, and for many of us it’s a lifelong ordeal. In a society where the idolized female image is basically to look like you’re 18 forever, with a long, slender physique, yet perfectly round fat deposits only in your breasts and buttocks, with pore-less, wrinkle-free skin, it’s no wonder we have body image issues. In addition to the numerous genetic and environmental factors that play their role in our insecurities, we have THIS. We have constant feeds of THIS. It only makes sense that the number of female cosmetic surgeries have never been higher or performed at such young ages (more than 220,000 performed on 13 to 19-year-old patients in 2013), or that half of female adolescents are displeased with their bodies.
This topic struck me recently on an even deeper level. It was the moment we got into the car after tap & ballet class and my daughter of six years exclaims, “Why are my legs so big?! Everyone else has small legs and mine are big and I hate them!”, all while squeezing her thighs and looking at them as if they were foreign objects. —> The same thighs I used to squeeze when she was a baby, those same thighs that I see every day as the most beautiful thighs, so magnificently strong, and agile, and perfect. She had made a comment about “looking bad” in her jeggings not long before this, which I had overlooked at the time as a cop-out for not wanting to wear her jeggings that day. And now this?!
As I felt my heart sink into my stomach, my first immediate thought was, “What have I done to my daughter?! She’s only six! She must have picked up on my own body image insecurities and they have permanently found their home inside of my daughter and I have ruined her!”.
God gave me shorter, strong legs. In high school, this was my number one physical insecurity, especially while in sports. This was one of the many physical insecurities that I would cry in my bed at night about at the age of 16 saying, “Why God? Why me?! Why couldn’t you have just made me normal?!”– completely overlooking everything else God had blessed me with. In a society that idolizes long, skinny legs and physiques, I felt like I should find ways to make myself feel better about my appearance. Oh wait, I know! —> What better way to achieve a positive body image than to get attention from boys?! Ahh, an easy, quick fix. Like a drive-through for a self-esteem boost. I would eventually realize that making out with boys was not a solution, rather the opposite.
By no means do I think we shouldn’t take care of our looks or make efforts to enhance our appearances. The problem I’m addressing is when you start condemning aspects of your appearance, when you are consumed by dissatisfaction with your image, when your discontentment overshadows self-love, and your desire to look like someone else is stronger than your desire to look like yourself. It’s important for us parents to understand how easily this could happen to our daughters in the modern world, and how it can begin at an astonishingly young age. My first memories of having body insecurities were in 3rd grade and those same thoughts lasted into my adulthood. My daughter is already expressing body image issues and she is only in Kindergarten.
Many other body insecurities I have still lurk below the surface waiting to make an appearance when other things are already not going right. But they mean less and less to me as my heart, my mind, and my soul grow wiser. I certainly don’t want my daughter to go through the agony I put myself through. But what can I do to help my daughter see her natural beauty? How can I help her see only her distinct and lovely features and have a positive body image, instead of comparing herself to the rest of the world?
A COUPLE GOOD READS ABOUT BODY IMAGE FOR PARENTS OF DAUGHTERS
The first book I want to recommend is Beauty Sick by Renee Engeln Ph.D. Renee defines “beauty sickness” as a condition that occurs when emotions are wrapped up so much in our appearance that other important things fall to the wayside. She says the effects of “beauty sickness” are what can lead to serious disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, depression, addictions, and anxiety. Renee’s research and interviews will open your eyes to the extent of body dissatisfaction and its effects among females, as early as age 5, and how we can fight this battle. During Renee’s interview with a seven-year-old girl named Lee, she asked Lee to describe the ideal female image. Lee responded, “She has long straight hair, wearing a lot of make-up and high heels, and her arms and legs are thin.” I wonder if my daughter would say the same thing?
You can find Kindle version of Beauty Sick here!
The next book I wanted to recommend is one you can read with your daughter. It’s called Beautiful Girl by Christiane Northrup, M.D. My daughter loves the bright, watercolor illustrations, and Christiane’s words are tender and sweet, with an emphasis on our unique differences as females. “Everything in nature is perfect just the way it is. Each little seed sprout ups differently in its own time and its own way.” I encourage you to read this book to your daughter, whatever her age may be!
I will soon be listing dozens of books that encourage positive body image for girls on the website.
Lastly, I wanted to share a little piece of advice from my own experiences with my daughter…
WHEN YOUR DAUGHTER MENTIONS A BODY INSECURITY, DON’T TAKE IT LIGHTLY.
So, after my daughter expressed her insecurity to me about her legs and panic took hold of me, I got a hold of my sisters. One of them started sending me pictures of some of the best dancers in the world. Their legs were strong, muscular, and in motion. I told Sadie who they were and what they did with their legs, and that that could be her someday. I said that strong legs give her an advantage. They will carry her further, they will move quicker, they will be more flexible, they will have more endurance, and that her differences from others were beautiful and something to embrace. She smiled and looked up as if a light bulb flashed on and told me she thought I was right.
I could have easily brushed off her comment in the car. But I chose to address it through a serious and sincere discussion until I knew she absorbed my words and believed them. I’ve watched her stand proudly and boldly in front of the mirror at dance class since, and I like to think it’s partially due to our talk 😉. I am by no mean a perfect mother who jumps at any opportunity to fix, mend, or problem solve with undying ambition. But if your daughter brings up an insecurity about her body, try not to take it lightly. Open your heart to her and have a compassionate discussion. Those ideas she has now may stick with her for her entire lifetime; they may impact the decisions she makes, the risks she takes, and the strides she takes towards achieving more in life than selfie queen status.
In my next blog post, I will be talking about social media and body image. Thanks for reading!