Girls and women in North America have a lot of pressure when it comes to the ideal body, and it’s affecting their self-image.
The statistics prove what we already know is true:
Ninety-one percent of young women that were surveyed on a college campus reported dieting to lose weight at some point.
Of that 91%, at least 22% admitted to dieting often.
Women and girls feel more pressure to attain a physical ideal (although boys and men also struggle with body image).
Most will eventually resort to dieting, some will develop an eating disorder, and nearly all feel pressure from the media and peers to pursue an ideal weight or body type.
Most often, the ideal that women have is impossible to achieve, because the slim figures portrayed by the media is within the reach of only 5% of women.
These statistics are alarming but not surprising.
The life-changing sonogram
When I was 21-years-old I learned that I was pregnant with my first child. I remember clearly when my ultrasound technician delivered the news that would change my life: “You’re having a girl.”
Less than two years later we welcomed our second girl, and suddenly my husband was very outnumbered.
Bringing home my second daughter from the hospital, it suddenly hit me what a great privilege and challenge it would be raising two daughters in our current culture.
It’s the 21st century, but girls are increasingly sexualized by the media, and pressure through social media and digital technology is increasing the intensity of bullying and low self-esteem in girls.
I didn’t want to bring my daughters into a home where their physical appearance would be scrutinized, where calories would be carefully counted or food delicately weighed.
I want my home to be a safe haven for my girls to come as they are, and be who they want to be.
I want my girls to have a healthy love for themselves; a life-long love affair.
Still, I know the statistics, and it makes me wonder how I’ll ever pull this off.
According to statistics, a young girl’s self-esteem peaks at nine, which means my four-year-old’s self-love should statistically peak in only five years. I’m not cool with that.
So, what are some ways that we can teach our daughters self-love?
The good news is that parents are not completely helpless when it comes to raising girls that love themselves and have confidence in their bodies, minds and hearts.
Below are five things that I think we should all do to raise confident daughters:
1. Show them that you love yourself.
I was recently lying in bed with my daughter Penny, when I decided to play a new game with her. “Let’s name some things that we love about ourselves tonight,” I said with a smile.
I listed a few things, from my long wavy hair, to a heart that cares for others, and my way with words.
I watched as my daughters eyes grew wide, and she excitedly listed the things she loves about herself.
My simple activity had a profound effect. Listing the wonderful things about myself allowed my daughter to see clearly my own self-love, and gave her permission to do the same.
Show yourself some self-love by allowing your daughters to see clearly that you love yourself, by the way that you talk about your body and heart, and by the way that you care for yourself through displaying healthy habits.
2. Encourage them to do something risky.
Girls who take risks are more likely to be confident and to find success in their future. Whether it’s encouraging your daughter to set up a lemonade stand even though she’s a bit shy, or standing by the door while she auditions for a play.
By confidently rooting her on while she challenges herself and tries new things, you will be encouraging that she takes more future risks, and finds more future success.
And when she falls, be there to help her get back up with a smile and a comforting hug. Everybody fails sometimes, so consider sharing a story of your own failure, and how it led to a greater resolve and success in the future.
3. Equip her with skills, and don’t limit the skills that you teach.
Even though my home has a traditional set-up, with my husband going outside the home for work & myself working within the home, we still aim to teach our children that they are not limited to any one job or skill-set.
Recently I built a crib with some tools, and my daughter commented, “Why are you using daddy’s tools?”
It made me realize that I had failed in this area.
We immediately bought our children their own tool sets, and I have made sure to use my tools more often. Use a critical eye and don’t be afraid to fix your own missteps. It is a great teaching moment for both parent and child.
4. Model healthy eating habits.
Each person will have a different opinion on the term “healthy eating habits”.
In my home, we don’t count calories, weigh food, or put too much emphasis on diets. We do attempt to eat whole foods that are fresh, and cook inside our home instead of going out to eat. We sometimes read labels, when we have to, but we don’t obsess over them.
We allow treats, but we teach that they are best in moderation, or else they can impact our bodies in negative ways, like making us tired or grumpy.
We don’t focus on weight, and we recently ditched the scale from our home. Instead we talk about how foods make us feel, and the freshness of our foods.
I believe that teaching children to have a healthy relationship with food starts young, and that’s why it’s been important to me to display healthy habits for my children.
5. Focus on the heart.
We will all have our own value systems as a family. But most of us can agree that treating others the way we want to be treated, and living a life of compassion and kindness should be a priority for our lives.
If I raise girls that are loving, kind and have strong values, I know I have succeeded as a mother. This is why our family puts emphasis on these things.
We try to focus on helping others, being kind to each other, and using loving words when we talk to and about other people.
If our attention is constantly on physical appearances, even if it’s to teach healthy behaviors, I think we’ve lost the point.
Young girls need to re-focus their attention away from their bodies and towards their hearts and minds, and I think when they do that they’ll be happier and healthier over all.
What do you think about these five suggestions? What would you add?
This post originally appeared on Parent.com.