There’s something very profound that your daughter learns about womanhood when she hears you complain about your new killer stilettos, that are killing your feet. What about when you are “low carbing” so you can fit into that dress in 2 weeks? And what is she going to think about her butt when you constantly complain about yours? Is she going to doubt your unconditional love for her if you aren’t showing any to yourself?
These ideas along with the theory that women devote much of their mental space to how they look is at the forefront of the new book “Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women.” The author and psychology professor at Northwestern University, Renee Engeln, PhD, makes the case that our society instils the view in girls from a young age that beauty is everything — only to call them superficial for making their looks a priority in adulthood.
On a more serious tip, the worst symptoms of beauty sickness include eating disorders and disordered behaviors around food; body worries are linked to depression, especially in teenage girls. Not to mention social anxiety, or the fear people are looking at you in a sexual context, Engeln explains.
And then there are the everyday consequences. “We have this limited amount of time on the planet to do what we need to do. We’re making a trade-off and losing the ability to spend our mental resources on doing something else,” Engeln said. Basically, when you’re so concerned that your looks or weight aren’t measuring up, what aren’t you focusing your energy on? That’s right: your hopes, dreams, values and ambitions.
If you’re a parent with a daughter, you can start making small changes to your own behaviours and language. You can change her perspective — and, hopefully, instil a stronger sense of self-esteem. “Most women really fear passing [these beliefs] onto their daughters,” Engeln said, but “mothers have a lot of power to set a new tone.”
Here are five powerful steps to take, no matter what age your daughter is.
1. Avoid focusing on her looks as No. 1.
Challenge your tendency to talk about her appearance before other attributes. “When you that, it’s an indication of what you find most important. Focus on all the other wonderful qualities, like creativity, kindness, tidiness, intelligence along with her beauty.
2. Say no to the dress.
Yes, she’s really cute with giant bows on their heads and frilly dresses, but if she’s not comfortable wearing it or finds it hard to play in, it’s ok to change into something more practical. Let’s consider the message being indirectly sent: that beauty is about impracticality and “how you look comes before how you feel,” Engeln said. Try to dress her in clothes that allow her to move freely first and are pretty second.
3. Monitor and school her social media.
“Adolescence is where many insecurities start.” Talk to your daughter about what she’s posting on her social media accounts and why. If it sounds like she wants people to say she’s attractive or sexy, help her to see that may be the wrong message to be sending” Help her to understand where her value really lies. Posting these types of photos feeds a cycle of needing more and more affirmation, which won’t feel good to her in the long run.
4. Her Dad’s a big part of it.
Fathers who treat their wives with respect, care and affection go a long way in teaching daughters to feel good about themselves. Men can think about how they’re talking about other women, too. The idea is to teach young girls that it’s not the girl’s job to focus on how they look — and for men to comment on it, This is crucial.
5. Lead by example
We learn a language of self-loathing from the women in our lives — and we can unlearn it, too, For moms, We often struggle with our own body images, but your daughter doesn’t need to hear it, Every time you talk about your body, you are indirectly talking about hers. Provide and example of self acceptance and self love every chance you get.What kinds of statements does your daughter make when you ask her what she loves the most about herself? That a clear indication of where she’s at and what need to be corrected. What messages do you remember getting from your mother growing up? Are they similar to what you say about yourself today?