Developing Healthy Body Image
As parents, and especially as moms, we are champion protectors. Like a Mama Bird guarding her eggs, we protect our little chicks day in and day out. We heed recall warnings, rid our homes of BPA laced sippy cups, follow the data on how often and where our babies should sleep – and that’s just the first year of their lives!
After that it’s protection from too much television, a first heartbreak, bullies at school, the student government election and, well, you get the idea! I would venture to guess that as mothers, we spend our whole lives protecting our children from harm. But have you ever thought about protection from an idea or concept, maybe even your own struggles?
An unhealthy body image doesn’t develop overnight and certainly isn’t avoided by one compliment or even a sincere conversation about being made in the image of God. No, unhealthy body image (and naturally a healthy one too) starts young and is modeled first after our parents, followed by our own personal self-esteem development (often influenced by parents, teachers, and coaches) and then finally our culture; exposure to media and peer influence.
Body Image is extremely multidimensional and long-suffering in its development that it isn’t enough to say that your children (especially your daughters) are made in the image of Christ; you have to explain what that means and live out what it looks like to be made in that very precious image. The fostering of a healthy body image in our children, and more specifically, our daughters, must begin at a very young age. It takes time and effort and must be as much a part of your parenting strategy as learning right from wrong and not to talk to strangers.
Let’s talk details:
1. It’s never too early to start. Just like any good habit, repetition is the key. Tell your daughter she is beautiful often and without condition, all the time. Seems like a no-brainer right? Well before you know it your daughter will hit her “awkward years” (don’t deny it ladies, we all have been through them and it is a brutal rite of passage for every girl) and she needs to know that you think she is just as beautiful on a random afternoon during the school week as she is when she is all dressed up for prom.
Don’t let the dads off the hook either! It can be especially awkward for fathers to kiss and hug their daughters as they go through puberty but they need to continually tell their daughters how beautiful they think they are and how much they love them. Have a hubby who is at a loss for words? Show him how and give him hints. For instance, pick one new thing you can find to compliment your daughter on each day. “Your hair looks nice today, that color looks great on you, your green top really brings out your eyes, etc.”
2. In addition to telling your daughter that she is beautiful, give her compliments about her character. Call out her loyalty, compassion and honesty and tell her that these character traits are just as beautiful as her outward appearance. She needs to know that these things are recognizable and attractive, just as much if not more than her physical beauty. Being made in the image of Christ is just as much about modeling Hid character as it is the fact that physical beauty comes from being made in the image of the Creator. So when you see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control in her life, tell her that she is modeling Christ’s likeness in those moments and that is most definitely beautiful.
3. Your daughters are always watching you. You know this when you try not to fight with your spouse in front of your kids and shield them from traumatic images that you watch on the news. But what about when you get dressed in the morning? Are you saying to yourself in the mirror, “I hate the way I look today” with your daughter listening intently behind you? If you are constantly commenting that things look fat on you or that you need to go on a diet, your daughter hears those messages and internalizes them for herself.
Instead, don’t put yourself down in the morning. And if you must, do it quietly! As your daughter gets older, take her shopping and show her how to dress appropriately for her body type. Teach her about the positive parts of her body, not the areas that need work. As far as dieting goes, that has to be a personal judgment call. Maybe you need to foster a healthier lifestyle, but do so in a healthy way. I suggest you don’t even use the word “diet”. Instead, model to your daughter how to eat and maintain a healthy lifestyle. If she sees you skip meals then she will do the same and we all know that at the end of the day there are no quick fixes for losing weight. It requires healthy eating and exercise and you have to help your daughter do the same.
4. Finally, keep at it. If your daughters are older, start now! If you have little babies then talk to them about their beauty and how much you love every bit of them. The key is to make this topic of body image a natural and easy conversation to have so when you hear about eating disorders or see images of twig-sized super models, you are ready and prepared to have a conversation with your daughter about how that affects her. Ask your daughter what beauty is to her and talk to her about the difference between visual beauty and beauty that comes from an experience or action. For instance, “Wasn’t it so beautiful when Aunt so and so got married? Not only did she look beautiful in her wedding dress, but knowing her heart behind the day is the most beautiful of all!” If you are comfortable talking about body image then you will be prepared to have hard conversations if you see signs of danger or concern.
Body Image falls under the larger umbrella of beauty and that most certainly comes from the Lord. The same God who created a sunset, the purple mountain majesty and a rainbow is the same God who created us! He doesn’t make mistakes in His intricate design and completion of who we are. Just like God’s design in nature is so much more than colors or texture, our beauty is much more multifaceted than just outward beauty. When we can cultivate true beauty (both inward and outward) in our children and nurture it appropriately, we are able to give a gift to them that will shape their heart and behavior for a lifetime.
Written by Tracy Carson