A flurry of blogs and articles about promoting good body image in girls hit the interwebz this week.
This article by a dad about the horrors of the make-up aisle set things off. He writes on his blog, “Flawless finish. Your finish has nothing to do with how your face looks today and everything to do with how your life looks on your last day. May your years be a preparation for that day. May you be aged by grace, may you grow in wisdom, and may your love become big enough to embrace all people. May your flawless finish be a peaceful embrace of the end and the unknown that follows, and may it thus be a gift to everyone who cherishes you.”
This dad is right on. Dads – and male relatives in general – can have a huge influence on girls self-image. I love that there are dads out there like this who understand and know that how they treat women will help determine how their daughters view themselves and expect to be treated by future boyfriends and husbands. If they see dad making fun of mom’s muffin top, they’ll probably be willing to overlook such obnoxious behavior in their own partners. Or if they see Dad oogling the latest Victoria’s Secret ad, they will undoubtedly learn that they should look like that to get a man’s attention.
But I also still believe that moms have the biggest influence on how their daughters see themselves and on whether they love or hate their bodies.
My 7-year-old daughter, for example, hears everything. Even when I think she’s not paying attention, she is. She hears when I make a joke about my stomach flab. She hears when I complain about my jeans being a little too tight. She sees me abstaining from treats and then making a comment about my thighs. And she even picks up on the seemingly harmless comments I make to friends such as, “Oh, I look so awful today.”
She hears it, and she files it away in her little child brain under, “Ways to Be Like Mom.”
So I’ve been thinking about how to ensure that my daughters grow up believing they are beautiful and perfect no matter what size or shape they are. First, I clearly need to watch how I treat my own body. I need to cut out those disparaging comments that don’t seem like a big deal to me, but can loom large to a little child.
But I have also come to this realization: My goal should not be replacing bad body image with good body image. Instead, the ultimate goal is replacing the entire idea of body image at all.
The women who I think are beautiful on the inside are the ones who get their self worth from internal factors. They take care of their bodies and take pride in their appearance, but it doesn’t define them. They are so much more than their body image.
As C.S. Lewis said, true humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but is thinking of yourself less. I think the same thing applies to body image – the less we think about what our bodies look like or should look like or what we want them to look like, the more our physicality fades into the background of our true character.
So yes, I want my kids to be healthy. I want them to feel positive about their appearance. But I also want them to be so busy looking outward at how they can help others and make other people feel beautiful, that they forget all about themselves.
I hope to help my daughters look beyond themselves by participating in service, by talking more about what other people need and by helping them identify how other people might feel. I think a lot of moms have a tendency to focus on how our children feel and helping them get in touch with that. What if instead, we spent our time helping them focus on how their actions affect other people? What if we open their eyes to empathy and sympathy – two often overlooked values.
When we look outward, there isn’t much time to find our own flaws and gradually tear ourselves apart. The less we are looking at ourselves in the mirror and thinking about our own body image, the more we can focus on the world and the people around us.
So for me, it’s not about finding or loving ourselves; it’s about losing ourselves. By focusing outward instead of inward, our body image melts into the background and we can simply be our beautiful selves.