Do I look fat?
My mother probably heard that phrase more times than she could count. Every other thought in my head as a nine-year-old was about my image. My first diet happened at that age. At age ten, I was called fat at a pool party. I can vividly remember the embarrassment from being weighed at school during PE in the fifth grade. For the love, why do schools do that? I’ve heard it said that children determine their worldview—how they see the world—by the age of nine. All of those moments for me were the foundation on which the next decade would build on.
And raising daughters now, I completely understand the fear that parents carry when it comes to this subject. We fear that we will cause them to have a poor body image or better yet someone else will cause them to have a poor body image. The reality is that we cannot shield our girls from everything in life, but we can control what they hear from us as parents.
Here are a few steps that may be helpful as you navigate this with your daughter.
Affirm where her worth comes from.
As your daughter enters into the tween phase and beyond, she is seeking to figure who she is and where she belongs. You combine that with the fact that bodies are changing and you have a recipe for problems with self-image. Many kids at that age look to their peers to define their worth. Peers change. Their opinions change. Trends change. Their worth is tied to what other’s think and those people change so goes your worth. You have the opportunity to be the voice in their head reminding them that their worth is tied to Someone who doesn’t change. She has value because she was made in the image of God. She was fearfully and wonderfully made. Even though she may roll her eyes at you or seem to not hear the words coming out of your mouth, continue to speak the truth over her.
Highlight other qualities in her.
…in addition to her physical appearance. Ignoring her outward appearance will likely cause her to question her worth more, but highlight things that are unique to her. Is she stylish? Is she funny? Does she love to read or build things? Does she love to create? Is she a great team player? Is she quick to notice the needs to others? Highlight those qualities about her in order to reinforce to her (without saying it explicitly) that she has so much to contribute to this world beyond her physical appearance.
Push her to look outside of herself.
Focusing on yourself and obsessing about your looks is just that—selfish. It is hard for kids to see beyond themselves, even adults don’t do this naturally. In moments where obsession rises, create opportunities to shift her focus. This can be as simple as suggesting that she pray for someone else every time the obsessive thought enters her mind. Or maybe it’s giving her the opportunity to do something significant on a weekly basis like volunteering. Giving her opportunities to not elevate the thoughts towards herself will help change her thinking.
It is scary letting your daughters grow up. I would give all I had if it meant my daughters wouldn’t struggle like I did. They may still struggle no matter how much I do. When I finally starting believing truth after more than ten years of struggling, my mom asked me why I didn’t believe her all those years when she spoke the truth to me. And honestly, I didn’t have an answer. I don’t know why I chose to believe lies or why I valued what others said about me more than her, but I do know that God used that part of my life to shape me and to minister to others from a more real and tender place. That struggle wasn’t wasted. That struggle is part of the story God was writing on my life and has enabled me to use that as part of His story. So because of that, I have to trust that if my girls struggle, God is big enough to work in their lives and hearts like He did mine.