From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.
In between the scores and commentary, the sports station played a few commercials. My husband was watching a little TV while the girls ate breakfast and I put on shoes. It was a typical busy morning and the television volume was turned down, so I didn’t think anything about what was playing until my seven-year-old walked into the living room and said, “I guess we can’t do that, huh?”
I looked up at the screen and saw an ad for a diet program. Confused and concerned by her comment, I said no and waited for her response. “I wish we could!” she said. When I asked why (although her dad and I are both overweight and could certainly benefit from someone restricting our food intake, thankyouverymuch), she said, “Because of my stomach! It sticks out!”
Because of her stomach. Because it sticks out. SIGH.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t hate my own body, and I’ve been trying to lose weight every day since I was a teenager. But because of my own issues, I’ve been diligent about how I speak about my own looks and my daughter’s looks. Careful as I’ve been, though, she’s still developing a little insecurity about her appearance. From crooked teeth to above-average height, my beautiful girl is beginning to notice the ways in which she’s different from others – and she’s already feeling like she doesn’t measure up.
It breaks my heart. And so this summer I’ve been working on how we talk about beauty and appearance and health, and I thought I’d share some of my strategies with you.
The first way I’ve been attacking this issue is by reminding my daughter that “beauty” is more than straight hair or teeth. We talk about how our insides are just as important as our outsides, and I tell her over and over again that God made each one of us different (and how that’s a good thing).
And going forward, whenever she says someone is pretty or handsome, I plan to ask her why so we can have more conversation about what exactly beautiful is.
Focus on being strong and healthy
This summer is the first time I’ve heard my little girl talk about being thin. And while I wish with all my heart that I was thin, too, I don’t want her to focus on that as a goal for her own body. We talk a lot about making healthy choices and being strong and the amazing things our bodies can do.
We’ve also just started exercising together, and I talk about how it will make us strong (NOT that it will get rid of either of our tummies that stick out!). And thanks to a lesson late in the school year, we’ve also talked quite a bit recently about food groups and why some foods are healthier than others.
Find great role models
From the women’s U.S. soccer team or Olympic athletes to female inventors, politicians or philanthropists, it’s not hard to find female role models who are strong, smart, and compassionate – and beautiful in their own unique ways. And we’re not restricted to today’s women and girls, either. So many women in history have done amazing things – and what better way to re-enforce the beauty of being smart, creative and kind than studying those women’s lives?
Although I have reluctantly begun allowing my daughter to watch a few Disney shows about pre-teens and teens, her exposure to older kids in books, TV shows and movies is limited. My reasoning used to be that I didn’t want her picking up sarcastic or disrespectful attitudes a lot of those “entertaining” teens exhibit, but lately I’ve become more aware of their emphasis on appearance and fashion and [hold me] dating. And while those aren’t bad things, they’re also not what I want my still-little girl to focus on or see as most important.
Though I’ve started trying to teach my daughter the concepts of flattering and appropriate clothing (an endeavor that just might be the death of me!), I rarely mention to her what size she wears. And when we’re shopping and need a bigger size, I simply say we need a different size instead. Obviously she can read and knows the difference between one number and another, but as long as I can protect her from what often turns into an unhealthy emphasis on numbers, I will. Or, at the least, I will vow to never buy her a single piece of clothing labeled, “husky.” (WHY, Sears & Roebuck of the 80s, WHY? Why did you label clothes for big little girls with that word?!?)
A few days ago my daughter asked if she could give me a makeover. Since I know what that means but we weren’t going anywhere that afternoon, I said yes. She got out my meager beauty supplies and started asking me what each item does, again. I reminded her that she could put foundation, powder, blush and eyeshadow on me – but mascara and eyeliner is off-limits.
As I sat on the couch getting my face painted (seriously. SO MUCH sparkly purple eyeshadow!), my one-year-old toddled around the living room and watched. As her big sister sneaked some blush onto her own cheeks and begged for “just a little more” pink lip gloss, she watched. Then she picked up a discarded Q-tip and started swiping it across her own eyelids.
“Ooooh, so pretty!” I said.
“Pitt-ee,” she echoed.
And I remembered how slippery the slope of beauty can be once again. So I followed it up with, “You’re a smart girl figuring out what to do!” in hopes that would balance out the time we’d just spent on the shiny and glittery.
“Smaht,” she said, and picked up a board book – and I decided we were doing okay.