Do you suck your tummy in when you think other people are looking at you? Why? Every day women (and men) are bombarded by messages on the TV, radio, print media including the internet telling us (and selling us) on how to change how we look.
Make no mistake, your daughter and her friends are receiving these messages too. Loud and clear. There are ‘tweens’ and teens out there pinching their thighs and bums disapprovingly and skipping entire meals in an effort to look like photoshopped models. They are eating up the implicit message being fed to them all day: “You are not enough”.
A woman’s worth is too often measured in dress and cup size.
But we ‘re not powerless. Here’s what we can do together to help support our girls:
We can stop critisizing ourselves
Have you complained aloud that you’re flabby/ aging/ not as pretty/ thin/tall/shapely as you’d like? Have you done that in front of your daughter?
In fairness, it is hard not to learn to be self-critical – there are entire industries built on self-criticism. Women’s magazines are one great example of how this happens. They are full of mixed and damaging messages about body image, sexuality and relationships (great in-depth piece here if you’d like to read more).
Have you ever really looked at what these magazine cover say to us?
Start to be aware of how you speak about yourself in front of your daughter – anybody’s daughter – today.
Our children learn to speak their native language simply by observing, learning and listening. They learn the language of self-love the same way. Be aware of what you are saying (either through words or actions) – children are listening and watching!
We can stop criticizing each other
Have you criticized – even jokingly – another persons appearance recently?
Not surprising. When we are taught to be critical of ourselves, it naturally follows that we are critical of others. Reality TV shows, talk shows and social media sites often teach us to judge and demean each other, see each other as competitors than equals. To make it worse, these behaviors are normalized so we don’t even realize what we’re doing much of the time.
Challenge the ideas you have learned yourself. Show your daughter how to challenge this stuff by challenging it with her. Talk with about what you are seeing, thinking, realizing. Ask her her opinion. It is never too late to change.
We can start talking to our daughters.
If you have never really thought about your own body-image issues, this is going to be a difficult one. But here’s an opportunity for you to learn together.
Instead of being critical of who you are seeing, be critical of what you are seeing.
The more we start to be critical of the message rather than the messenger, the more our next generation of women will be able to sit comfortably in their own skin.
a) We can start to talk about sexuality (and yes, that includes porn!)
We realize that this is most parents’ nightmare conversation. But if you’re not comfortable talking about this, then how can you expect your children to be comfortable asking about it – and then where do you think they are learning about it (because they are)!?
For many teenagers, porn is their only sex-ed teacher.
We know that you do not want your children to learn about the facts of life and how to have relationships from watching #50shades, right?
At a minimum, teenagers need to know that sexual erotic feelings, sensations and fantasies including masturbation are normal, can be fascinating, good, healthy and fun (they’ll cringe but that’s OK – they’ll be relieved and interested underneath it all). Teach that there is nothing wrong with looking at erotic material. There is no need for shame. Shame is the enemy of pleasure. Now more than before, teenagers need to be explicitly taught the difference between reality, fantasy and what is just abuse. We can’t expect them to just get it.
In case you don’t know where to start, here’s a beautifully written piece we just came across that captures a mother/daughter relationship perfectly. And here’s a good piece for parents on porn and teenagers.
b) We can talk about the value of feeling – and listening to – discomfort.
It can be difficult enough for us adults to speak up when we feel humiliated, embarrassed, pressurised, or simply uncomfortable. When we do though, we usually succeed in bettering our situation. Teaching your daughter to do the same will empower her to know that their feelings count.
Squirming in silence teaches your daughter to do the same.
We can learn about the technology she’s using, and how she’s using it
Instagram, SnapChat, WhatsAp… the list of applications where teens can instantly connect in a visual way with one or many others is growing. We realize that it might feel overwhelming for you. We get that. Learning what your daughter is doing and how she is using social media will equip you to have conversations with her about it. Posting explicit ‘porn star’ pose photoshopped pictures is a very poor substitute for either a healthy body image, or a foundation for any kind of healthy relationship – regardless of age.
This won’t go away, so the best thing for adults to do is to educate ourselves and talk about it with our children. In fact, the willingness to talk about it is even more important than being educated (your kids will teach you!).
So let’s have these conversations! Our daughters deserve to feel better about themselves. Our sons deserve to have healthy fun equal relationships with women who are happy and body confident.
Oh, and since summer is coming, we’re off to make sure we’re bikini-ready – are you?