If these essays have taught us anything, it’s that how we talk about our bodies has a significant effect on how other women – our daughters in particular - feel about theirs. Mothers quite literally hold their little girls’ body image in their hands like Playdoh, ready to be shaped and molded into something beautiful. That sounds daunting, and I don’t mean to imply that a mom is the ONLY force impressing upon her little girl’s self-esteem, but the impact is there. According to Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem, commissioned by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund in 2008, 67% of girls ages 13 to 17 turn to their mother when they’re feeling bad about themselves—and 91% of girls ages 8 to 12 do.
Looking for guidance? I urge you to check out Dara Chadwick’s new book You’d Be So Pretty If… Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies—Even When We Don’t Love Our Own (Da Capo, 2009). In it, Chadwick, Shape magazine’s 2007 Weight-Loss Diary columnist and mother to a 12-year-old daughter, argues that moms are powerful role models for their girls, but that with a bit of tweaking, they can model positive body behaviour, even if they don’t have supermodel confidence themselves.
While you wait for your copy to arrive, check out these tips adapted from You’d Be So Pretty If…:
Five Ways to Boost Your Daughter’s Body Image
• Change your tune: If you’re usually harsh or critical about your appearance in front of your daughter, make sure she hears you say at least one positive thing about yourself each day. A simple, “I like the way my hair looks today” or “I like the cut of these pants” is a great first step toward creating a more positive body image.
• Don’t do comedy: Humor can be a defense mechanism when you don’t feel good about yourself, but your jokes about your body aren’t fooling her. It’s OK to laugh together—even about your bodies, occasionally—but don’t make your butt the “butt” of every joke.
• Corral your compliments: Resist the urge to focus on weight when doling out compliments to friends and family. Let your daughter hear you tell a friend she looks fantastic or healthy or happy without it being about having lost weight.
• Examine your example: Don’t refuse to wear a bathing suit or dance at a wedding because you think you’re too big or don’t look right. You’ll be teaching her that only “perfect” people get to have fun in life. Do what you can to look your best, then forget it. Be bold when you need to, and show her that it’s good to speak your mind, take your place and be noticed.
• Skip the mirror: No one’s advocating leaving the house without a glance at yourself. But once you’ve done that, resist the urge to constantly re-check your look in mirrors, store windows or any other reflective surface. You know you look fine, so just let the obsession go.