Body image can be a worry when you have a daughter. Many mothers have battled with their own body issues or feelings of insecurity.
In Beyond Beautiful, Anushka Rees explains that it is common for women to feel bad about how they look, not because of vanity but because of a brutal culture.
She explains that body image is not simply related to thoughts and feelings women have about their bodies, but all the things they do/don’t do because of it. This can include dieting, straightening or relaxing hair, declining an invitation to a pool party because of feelings of self-consciousness or even undergoing painful surgeries in order to fit in with conventional definitions of beauty.
Some young girls miss out on socialising because they are afraid of how they might appear in photographs. Others believe they would be happier if only their hair was longer or they could lose weight.
Some believe they will not find love if they don’t control their appearance.
Rees explains that a young girl’s self-esteem often drops drastically at age nine, when compared to boys. This is due to social messages about body image. This self-esteem will often never reach pre-puberty levels until women reach their fifties.
Rees explains that a young girl’s self-esteem often drops drastically at age nine, when compared to boys.
Why it helps to reject the beauty myth
Rees explains that girls or women don’t feel unhappy because of their hair, eyelids, thighs or weight. They feel unhappy because of the social messages they have received about their bodies. In the Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf explains that these images have been created to market expensive products to women as well as to keep them self-focused rather than empowered.
Rees says that women embrace the beauty myth in order to feel loved, happy and worthy. In the process, they feel dissatisfied, unhappy and alienated from themselves.
What can we do for our daughters?
Socialisation is everywhere. However, style consultant Janine Carly James, who assists women to develop their own unique style explains that many of her clients’ body image issues are passed on from their mothers.
Janine explains that this is often based on a mother’s feelings of anxiety due to cultural expectations. She advises mothers to focus on aspects of their daughters unrelated to beauty.
You could focus on your daughter’s strength, creativity, humour, kindness, courage or love of music. Let your daughter know that she is so much more than just her appearance.
Share body positive messages with your children
Shelley Anand has a book called Laxmi’s Mooch. This is a story about a little girl called Laxmi, who realises that she has hair all over her body, including on her upper lip. Laxmi not only learns to accept her body as it is, but to embrace it.
Shelley Anand explained that while adults are often told to embrace body positivity, children should be included in this message too. Very often, by the time a girl reaches adolescence, she has been exposed to a number of cultural messages about ‘beauty’.
Alternate messages or conversations plant the seed for change. By encouraging your daughter to embrace her body as it really is, you’ll add new insights into culture.
Very often, by the time a girl reaches adolescence, she has been exposed to a number of cultural messages about ‘beauty’.
Embrace all body types
Lisa Fipps has written a stunning and very moving book called Star Fish about a girl called Ellie (soon to be released), who makes waves at her fifth birthday by jumping into the pool. After this, she is teased by her peers. She learns to hide, to try to make herself small, and that there are different ‘rules’ for ‘fat’ people.
Lisa Fipps writes for older readers and Ellie’s struggles evoke a deep empathy within readers. This book makes an excellent choice if you wish to overcome a culture which shames big people. It also reveals the pains imposed by diet culture.
One of the most insightful phrases in this book comes when Ellie is clothes shopping and the store owner tells her that her mother used to sew her clothes. Ellie muses that the store owner’s mother helped her to feel comfortable in her own skin, rather than encouraging her to adjust to a limited and unjust world.
Teach your daughter activism
While it is tempting to encourage your daughter to diet or to adjust her body image in order to prevent teasing or cruelty, it is more helpful to work towards social change. Help your daughter to challenge beauty myths. Show her the fallacies behind a perfect image.
By creating curiosity in your daughter, you can help her to see that beauty myths are never constant and change over time and culture. Show your daughter the value her body will provide her, not as an object, but a sensual means of living within the world.
Bodies enjoy touch, taste, beauty, sight and scent. They help us to make sense of feelings and to interpret the world around us. Their abilities and appearances matter more than their image. As Ellie says in starfish, there will be lots of people who don’t get it. What matters is that your daughter does.
One of the myths she frequently challenges is the myth that fitness, health and appearance correlate.
Challenge myths that appearance relates to health
Blogger, influencer and author of Pretty Normal Me, Emily Clarkson challenges beauty myths all of the time. One of the myths she frequently challenges is the myth that fitness, health and appearance correlate.
Emily ran the London Marathon and while she shares that she is currently fitter than she has ever been in her life, she explains that fitness has brought her many gifts, including increased stamina and improved mental health. Her body is still not perfect though.
Many fitness and health diets equate value to control over food, deprivation and a desired body shape. Encourage your daughter to equate fitness with stamina and confidence. Her health should always be what matters most.
Society can be cruel
Companies make money from keeping women ashamed and then marketing them products, pills and potions. These products often don’t work, which leaves both women and girls searching for the next one, the next solution, in search of happiness.
Like the Emperor’s New Clothes, they can be revealed as fake. The more people come together to challenge beauty myths, the less power they will have. Fairy tales may teach your daughter that a wonderful prince can fall in love with a beautiful but near dead woman and they will live happily ever after. You can teach her the value of her personality, inner vibrancy and life.
Like the Wizard of Oz, beauty myths offer nothing at all. Help your daughter to see her strengths, even if she doesn’t believe you. Help her to feel confident with who and what she is, and not what she isn’t. Little by little, women’s voices will join together like droplets in a river, creating a new force. A force of appreciation which give women and girls value for who they truly are.
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