As a mother of an 8-year-old daughter, I am becoming even more conscious of the impact I have on the way that she thinks about her body.
When speaking at an event recently, I shared from stage a few ways that we, as mothers, can impact the attitudes our daughters form about their bodies.
I got some great feedback from other mothers of young daughters, so I want to share some of those thoughts with you:
1. We must never pull our bodies apart in front of our daughters.
If they hear us saying " I look fat" or if we ask them if we look fat, they will learn from a very young age that there is something wrong with the female body and that it needs to be fixed.
2. If we can acknowledge our daughters for what they do, rather than how they look, this is a better recognition of who they are and who they are becoming.
If my daughter has dressed herself for a party and is wearing a favourite dress, I will say, "You really love that dress, don't you? And well done for focusing on getting dressed so we can get to the party on time." She will be get plenty of acknowledgement for looking great/pretty from others, because this is how society trains us to talk to girls.
3. We can create a joyless, confusing relationship with food for our daughters by making some food "good" and other food "bad."
Many of us have "good"/"bad" associations with food: "If I eat salad I am good; if I eat ice-cream I am bad." Food is food. I say to my daughter, "some food is everyday food; some food is not for every day".
4. The day I stopped buying trashy women's magazines was the day my daughter turned 1.
She is going to see sexualized images of women as soon as she leaves the house, but I have a say about what she is exposed to in our home (at least for the moment), and I do not want her seeing images of women that do not honor her or the women depicted.
5. Don't pick apart her outfit.
As the daughter of a designer, I love style. Sometimes when my daughter walks out of her bedroom in her outfit for the day, my instinct is to say, "What are you wearing? You look like a street urchin!" I have never said it though, as I know I only have that impulse because of my social programming about how girls should look. I do not comment at all.
6. Talking with my daughter about her body I use words such as strong, healthy, energetic and fast.
I rarely use words such as pretty or beautiful; and I avoid saying "good girl." My husband has noticed that for years, he would say "good girl" to my daughter when she has achieved something, and he now questions why he ever thought her gender was relevant to her achievement.
Our daughters will learn from us how to value themselves. Whether we like it or not, we are responsible for what they are exposed to and what they hold up as values while they are young.
They will do as we do, not as we say.