Having a daughter is an incredible blessing, but it comes with an incredible responsibility: trying to negotiate the rocky territory of her identity and self-worth. I think all moms imagine that they're going to raise their daughters to be strong and sure of themselves, but the fact of the matter is; there will be challenges along the way, which is why it's so important to be prepared with responses for when your daughter body shames herself.
It's an interesting thing to experience, witnessing your daughter body shame herself, especially when you haven't taught her to (and, honestly, have actively tried to teach her to love her body). I have always been extremely self-deprecating, but when I started hearing my step-daughter, then a pre-teen, criticizing her own body, I "woke up" and started to pay attention. I could hear how slanted her opinion of herself was, and how difficult it was to convince her that she was so much more than the negatively she associated with herself. I didn't have as much control over the messages she was absorbing, because she didn't live with us, but I'm hoping that my younger daughter, almost five now, will observe and absorb my constant message of body positivity so that, when the inevitably time comes, she can combat the cultural messages of self-hate and worthlessness.
Being there for our daughters, to counteract and talk through the negative messages society (and sometimes those we love) gives women and girls about the worth of their bodies, is the best thing we can do as parents. Being prepared with what to say is important, too. Here are nine responses for when your daughter body shames herself:
"You Are Beautiful, Inside And Out"
It's hard not to think this is just a platitude, but kids need to hear that their parents think they're beautiful. Of course, beauty comes in all forms, both on the inside and on the outside, so you can always talk to them about the many ways you think they are beautiful.
"You Don't Need To Change Anything About Yourself"
Sometimes, I think that for the kids who tend to fight for and towards utter perfection, any encouragement toward self-improvement can be misinterpreted. For those kids, letting them know that they don't need to change anything, especially in order to be loved, is an important message.
"Why Do You Say That?"
Finding out why your daughter is body shaming herself is an important step toward getting her to stop. Is this due to bullying at school? Is she seeing images in the media that are making her question her body? Are you saying things unconsciously (and often times, about yourself) that she's picking up on?
"Your Body Is Capable Of Incredible Things"
Appreciating all the things your body is able to do is a key part of learning to love your body. Talk to your daughter about all the things her body can do, like running and jumping and swimming, and less about how your daughter's body looks.
"I Wish You Could See Yourself The Way I See You"
This can also come across as another platitude, but the important thing to convey with this statement is that when you love someone, whether they're your friend, your partner, or your child, you don't see their flaws as a "bad thing." Instead, you see them as beautifully unique things that make them exactly who they are and, well, you love exactly who they are.
"You Don't Need To Look Like A Celebrity/That Girl At School To Love Your Body"
What's that quote? "Comparison is the thief of joy." Unfortunately, it's something we seem hard wired to do. One of the important things we can teach our kids is that there's room for everyone. Every body, every gender, every race, every talent, every dream.
"You May Not Think You're Perfect, But I Do"
As a parent, you seriously cannot overestimate how important it is to let your kids know that you think they're good enough. You can even list all the things you think are perfect about them.
"Do You Ever Hear Me Saying Bad Things About My Body?"
This is a question you should definitely be asking, especially if you hear your daughter body shaming herself. Kids learn by observing, and if you have been putting yourself down unconsciously, it's time to own up to that detrimental behavior and change it, so your daughter doesn't believe it's normal and acceptable to talk negatively about yourself.
"What Are Your Favorite Things Your Body Can Do?"
Engage your daughter in the concept of body appreciation. Talk to her about all the things her body is capable of, and hopefully it will help her see that her body isn't designed to look a certain way (or somehow flawed if it doesn't look a certain way), it's about accomplishing things. It's something to be proud of.