A Victoria’s Secret commercial, a bikini clad girl in a reality show… a selfie pic posted by her best friend who happens to be 5’ 8” and a buck-ten. These are the images today’s teenage girl encounters each day.
Is this the norm?
How can a young girl possibly measure up?
It's no secret that we live in a day and age where our bodies are the main focus. Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with messages, both flagrant and subtle, telling us our bodies aren't good enough. If you walk into a mall, you're surrounded by images of photo-shopped girls who are supposed to represent the "norm." Conveniently, there's always at least one shop where you can buy the latest and greatest weight loss supplement helping you finally get the body that you really want. Even something as simple as logging onto the Internet has become a catastrophic nightmare for some. Everything from Pinterest "thinspiration," striving for the thigh gap, or the latest trending article about the newest miracle diet is enough to make a young girl want to give up.
There is no escaping this body-conscious society that we've created. So, how do we effectively encourage our girls in a world were they are constantly being told they aren't good enough?
“Not good enough.” I know that feeling well. You see, at the age of 10, I began struggling with eating disorders. The first diet I went on was in the 4th grade. I was too young to really understand the concept of dieting, so in my mind, not eating lunch was a "diet." From there it turned into skipping breakfast and lunch and well… you can probably figure out where this led. I was the oldest of four girls and my poor mother had to figure out how to help me love myself despite society’s best efforts to tear me down.
Living through this, and now helping others with the same struggle, I have discovered some opportunities to build into girls struggling with self-image. I don’t have any daughters of my own yet, but when I do, I hope to exercise these four practices readily with them:
- Affirm them in areas other than their beauty.
As soon as a baby girl is born, it's our natural tendency to tell them over and over again how beautiful they are because, well… they are beautiful. The problem is that for the first 5 years of their life, all they hear is they are beautiful and the moment they get sent to school and another young girl or boy calls them ugly, their entire identity breaks down.
Keep telling your girls they are beautiful, but also tell them they are smart, they are talented, they are worth more to you than they could ever imagine, they have the ability to make you laugh like no one else can. Teach them they truly were fearfully and wonderfully made as Psalm 139:14 so beautifully states. Sure, they will still have to face the bullies at school and you will not be able to protect them from every degrading comment made to them, but make sure that their beauty isn't the only piece of identity that they have.
- Don't utter the "F" word.
It's a word that has fallen on just about every person's lips at some point, some more than others: fat.
Sadly, it’s become such a common word used to describe ourselves that we don't even think twice before saying it.
Does this dress make me look fat?
I feel so fat today.
Ugh, look how fat my arms are in that picture.
Moms, your daughters are listening and you just pointed out that the most beautiful woman in their lives is fat and therefore… ugly.
They look up to you; and if you think you're fat, then they might be fat as well.
Growing up, I watched my mom, nana, and aunts all diet themselves away all in an effort to get rid of the one thing that made them ugly: fat. The moment my body began to change and curves started developing, I associated my newfound figure with fat and fat equaled ugly.
I realize this might be very difficult for some of you, because you… like me… don’t always feel pretty. You wouldn’t mind shedding a few pounds, and you wish you did look like the woman on the cover of Vogue or even the star of your favorite sitcom. Maybe you weren’t affirmed much as you grew up. We live in a flawed world.
Break the chain (practice #4 will help you).
Don’t pass the focus-on-fat down to your daughters. You are being watched. Your every comment is being noted.
- Don't make food a focus.
It seems like every day a new super food emerges to add to your diet as well as a new "poison" that must be immediately cut from your life! Right now, gluten and dairy are enduring a very tragic beat-down as every "health conscious" citizen is damning them both to hell (don't even get me started on that trend).
I fully support being healthy and teaching your children the health benefits of food, but I've seen and experienced far too many instances when the food becomes more about the "weight gain" and less about the nutrition.
When I was around 12, my mother and grandmother were constantly after me about my diet. They warned me over and over that when I became a teenager, my body would change and I would have to start eating healthy or I would gain weight. Experts will tell us these kinds of conversation do more harm than good. My family had good intentions in that they didn't want me to have to fight an obesity battle, but I then started to associate food with guilt, which then led to the common cliché of "you always want what you can't have."
I fully believe children should never be told certain foods are "good" while others are "bad." Instead, affirm good health, teaching your kids about nutrition. Provide plenty of fruits and veggies for snacks. Balance protein with carbs and help your kids understand how the body uses each. Talk about healthy eating, not weight.
Inform… don’t frighten.
- 4. Learn to love yourself.
There is no better role model for daughters than a mother who loves themselves and a father who constantly loves and affirms their mother.
Moms, if you live constantly nit picking and making disparaging comments about your own body, research reveals your daughters will begin to do the same. Dads, if you never tell their mother that she is beautiful and don’t treat her with the love and respect she deserves, your daughters will lower the bar for themselves, connecting with a man who won't love them to their potential.
Live your lives in such a way that your daughters can see their self-worth through you.
* * *
This is a hard battle that unfortunately, almost every young girl is placed in. You won't be able to protect them from every media source, diet trend, or super model, but you can help them develop an unconditional love for themselves. Affirm them the way only you can.
Love and acceptance is really all they are looking for… and you can provide plenty of both!
Rihanna Teixeira is an inspired writer and ministry student who has won the battle against Bulimia…but is still fighting the war. Read more from her in her insightful blog, Diary of a Wannabe Everything.
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