From the moment I first heard that heartbeat, I (secretly) wished for a girl. So when the ultrasound technician confirmed the gender at our 19-week appointment, I took a moment to myself in the bathroom to 1) empty my pregnant bladder and 2) process the news. “A little girl,” I repeated. A tear of happiness streamed down my cheek.
On the drive home, we called my mother-in-law to share our exciting news. I glanced over at my husband. His eyes welled up. He paused for a moment and said, “We’re having a girl!” As my hand held his, my heart felt full.
For the rest of the ride home, my thoughts wandered. I began fantasizing about what it would be like to have a daughter. What she would look like. The bond we would have. The memories we would make. As my mind continued to explore the possibilities of what life would look like for her, I couldn’t help but draw back to my experience working with young girls as a mental health professional.
I knew from my work how susceptible young girls were for developing low self-esteem and body image issues. I knew that our culture and societal norms placed high importance on female beauty and set a certain standard for it—one that was typically unattainable. I knew that even at a very young age, little girls learned to compare their appearance to others. Many would become self-conscious about how they looked and develop negative feelings about some aspect of their appearance. In time, this could even lead to some form of disordered eating.
As a clinical social worker by training, I knew that children are like sponges—observing, watching, imitating. What I also knew was that a girls’ attitude about her body was often related to her mother’s body image. By this, I mean, a mother who criticizes, complains, or is overly concerned about her appearance is likely to have a daughter who develops negative feelings about her own body and appearance.
On that ride home, I made a vow that I would do my very best to instill in my daughter both self-love and a positive self-image.
Here are 5 ways to foster a positive body image:
1. No Negative Self Talk
Refrain from talking negatively about yourself. When you look in the mirror or try to squeeze into those pants that we all know are still too tight, don’t let those negative thoughts transfer to your mouth. Actually, don’t even make a face. The bonus for dropping the negative self talk: the more comfortable you will become in your own skin. Words are powerful. Choose them wisely. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Avoid words like “fat,” “skinny,” “pretty,” or “ugly.” Everyone is different. Everyone has their own special attributes and qualities. There is so much more to a person than labeling them by their looks.
3. Avoid Comparing
Try to refrain from comparing. When you look at that magazine, that commercial, or the people you encounter in your everyday life (including your daughter), abstain from comparing their bodies and appearance to others or yourself.
4. Describe the Body for How it Works
When talking or referencing one’s body/body parts describe it for the purpose of its function instead of for the purpose of being attractive or beautiful. This avoids objectifying. For example, legs are for walking. Eyes are for seeing. Bottoms are for sitting. Our body parts allow us to perform tasks and navigate the world around us.
5. Focus on Being Healthy
Instead of obsessing about dieting, weight, or caloric intake, shift the focus to a healthy lifestyle. The overall goal should be to find a good balance of healthy choices, so our bodies are strong and well.
Body image, self-esteem, and confidence. They’re all connected. Are there other factors that contribute to how a girl feels about herself? Of course! Will there be things, events, and circumstances that are out of our control? Definitely. But what I also know is: That little girl is listening. That little girl is watching. That little girl looks up to her mama. Learn to love you so they can learn to love themselves.