This is a compensated review from BlogHer and Dove Self-Esteem
Say it. “I am drop-dead gorgeous!” Three times in the mirror every morning. Those instructions provide the basis of what my 13 yo daughter calls my “brute force” method of teaching positive body image to my children. We had a video at one point showing this in action.
We had a mirror on the wall facing the staircase. The boys barely noticed it there. They may not have noticed at all except for the behavior of their sisters. The girls would get two or three stairs from the bottom and stare at themselves in the mirror. This wouldn’t trouble their brothers too much, except if they wanted to get down the stairs without pushing past a sibling.
It troubled the adults in the family though. Not the mirror staring part, but the self-talk or statements to us that came with the mirror gazing.
“My breasts are too small!” “My breasts are HUGE!” “My nose is crooked!” “My nose is too big!” “UGH! Freckles!” “ARG! I hate my zits.” “I wish my hair was straight.” “My hair won’t hold a curl.” “I am fat.” “My butt is too big.”My thighs are too big.” “My legs look like sticks!” “My eyes are weird.” “I need to go on a diet.” Yes, a lot of exclamation points went on.
We banned that kind of talk or tried to ban it. We worried. We are women comfortable in our own skin and the kids knew that. We wanted the same for them, but it didn’t come overnight. At this point in parenting, with our youngest two girls 11 and 13, we still have a lot of work to do.
One day, I got beyond frustrated with it as the girls came down and each said something negative. I ended up grabbing the now 13 yo and holding her in front of the mirror. Instructing her, “I am drop-dead gorgeous.” “But, I am not” she protested. “Ok, so you don’t think you do…here is the deal, you will say it. Every day. One day, you will realize you believe it and that there is nothing more true. Knowing the power, glory and sheer magnificence of you and the body that holds you will take you far in life.” She started saying to the mirror “Mommy is drop dead gorgeous” It became filled with laughter from the whole family-mostly the girl child who has turned this into a family joke. She refers to me constantly as her “drop-dead gorgeous mother”. Some days she sees it, other days she thinks I am just delusional.
When my mother moved in, she became part of our teaching project. She divides food and self-worth up into “being good/being bad.” As I try to get her to make healthier choices, there are a lot of “I am trying to be a good girl.” types of discussions. No, Mama. It isn’t you that is bad or good. It isn’t the food that is bad or good. Food is food. You are you. A serving of ice cream doesn’t make you a bad person. She is 72. I have a late start on her. The mother who told me I was the prettiest baby ever born. The mother who told me over and over that there wasn’t a part of me that wasn’t perfectly proportioned. She was also the one who often made it clear that my younger sister was the beautiful one and my older sister was the smart one. I was just the tomboy. I had a boss point out when I was in my 20s, as I talked about my family, that she couldn’t imagine it. I must be both the pretty and the smart one. She told me to look in the mirror and think about my life. I thought she had lost her mind. Then I realized she had a point.
It isn’t the beauty part. None of our girls looks model-perfect when they roll out of bed, not even the eldest whose wedding pictures remind one more of bridal magazine than any bride I have ever seen in person. No one looks that way when they wake in the morning. Whether you choose to chase an arbitrary standard is up to you in my eyes. Our girls can primp and polish all they want unless it starts or ends with dissatisfaction with her body. I step in then. That image in the magazine-photoshopped. That girl in school with you with hair like a palomino? I can bet that she thinks her beauty doesn’t make the cut. I will remind them of their hair like spun gold. The strong legs, the magic of her smile. I remind them that nothing creates beauty like a sparkle in an eye or a word kindly spoken. The freckles speak of happy days in the sun.
We have a surprising number of books on this topic in the house. Books, journals, workbooks, and other books that reinforce the words we speak. They find a home here and girls will take them from time to time. More than one found its way here through a Dove sponsorship of a Girl Scout program through the Dove Self-Esteem Fund (Check out Dove’s official site for more information on the program and how YOU can help.) or from downloading them from Dove or their Facebook page. The Dove Self-Esteem Fund is committed to helping girls build positive self-esteem and a healthy body image, with a goal of reaching 5 million girls globally by 2010.
Dove is also collecting video and photo testimonials from women who have helped build positive self esteem in a girl in their life.
I am also a sucker for a fiction book that is intelligent and the girl loves her own body.
I think though that being alert to and noting negative self-talk and negative talk about other people’s appearance really is the key to teaching positive body image. My youngest said “Back when I was little miss four eyes” last night. We ended up having a long discussion about why she stopped wearing her glasses. We also got back to the point where she realized that glasses might keep her from having so many headaches after school.
Unfortunately, our voices aren’t the only ones our daughters hear. They hear the woman at the supermarket. “Don’t you wish you had hair like your sister? She is so cute!” They see the girls on TV. Aunts, grandmothers, cousins, will tell them to lose a little weight, will comment that it is too bad they have their father’s nose or their grandfather’s hair color. Those comments can be devastating.
I confess I am not a perfect mom either. I love my daughter’s eyes-the color of the ocean before the storm, the unfathomable gray full of life, intelligence and mystery. She wears glasses. Last year, she decided to get contacts. I loved the contacts because I can see her eyes again. Now she has new frames. They are attractive, suit her bold personality…but chunky, bright, and I can’t see the eyes I love so much. Startled by them the first time, I made the wrong comment. This she dwells on sometimes. She snarks about it because she sees the hurt when she repeats it. She knows I hurt that I said it. Ah, the ways of a teen. I know my mom did a lot to help me and my body image…now it is my job.
But, for now, my daughters know they are beautiful, her life is beautiful and yes, they are all drop-dead gorgeous. Be kind to yourself in front of them. Be kind to your daughters. Be kind to mine…because teaching positive body image gives our daughters magic, power and sparkle. That can be nothing but good when they head out in the world to find love, share their hearts and their heads, and make tomorrow a better place.
Read more self-esteem stories from BlogHer reviewers at the roundup page. But, before you do, stop and tell me the thing that an adult in your life said that made all the difference in the world to you as a child. If none, what devastating, careless remark do you carry in your head even now.