I have an eleven-year-old daughter. I’m amazed at how, even at her young, tender age, society has already influenced her body image by communicating what is beautiful and what is not. I’m trying to raise her to be secure about who she is and love the body God gave her – and to embrace her beauty both inside and out. Below are seven things I’ve learned so far in this journey of raising a tween to have a healthy body image.
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. — Psalm 139:13
1. Focus on the inner beauty. As parents, we can call out the things that make her HER, like the good stuff that God puts deep inside. Finding our identity in Jesus gives us a solid foundation, and that’s what our girls need in order to walk in security.
2. Remember that our daughters listen to what we say about our own body. I remember hearing my daughter say to herself one time, “I look fat in this.” My head spun around so fast, it’s no wonder I didn’t need a neck brace from whiplash. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Her petite frame was far from “fat.” That’s when it hit me. My words about my own body image were influencing what she thought about herself. Sure our bodies are probably quite different than they were before having children, but we must be mindful that girls are learning how to love (or not love) their bodies through their mothers.
3. Teach our daughters about healthy eating and exercise, but don’t obsess. We should love our body enough to take care of it, but obsessing over it is just as bad calling it fat. A year ago I made the decision to cut out refined sugar and white flour. It was a decision not made out of wanting to lose weight but out of wanting to cut out foods that were negatively impacting my ability to handle stress. My daughter jokingly referred to my “diet” one day, and I realized that I needed to have a conversation with her about the reasons why I chose to eliminate those foods. Emphasizing that my reasons were not born out of a hate for my body but rather a love for it and what I was putting in it, changed her whole perspective.
5. Keep an open dialogue about the changes her body will go through during puberty. Let’s face it. Everyone’s body looks weird during the tween years. (They don’t call it the awkward years for nothing). We can share personal stories with our daughters and talk openly about our own awkward tween and teenage years to help our girls not feel alone. You want your daughter to see you as her #1 source of information, so start talking with her as early as ages 8-10 (the pre-pubescent years) about what to expect, and let her know you are there when she needs honest and frank answers about the changes she’s going through.
6. Ask questions to get to root issues. When tween girls talk about looking fat, the knee jerk reaction is to correct them and say, “No, you don’t!” Try a different approach. Ask why she thinks she looks fat. Did someone tell her that? Did she compare herself to someone? You don’t want her to feel like it’s an interrogation, but a few open-ended questions will help you discover some of the roots of her feelings.
7. Carefully select a few good books that encourage a healthy body image. My daughter opens up more after she’s been able to read and process something. A great book to start with is the 90-day devotional, Brave Girls: Beautiful You. It’s a brand-new book that is filled with stories and devotions on how God created us to be healthy and confident with our bodies. It encourages young girls to love themselves as God made them to be!
For older girls, also check out Fashioned by Faith by model Rachel Lee Carter and Project Inspired: Tips and Tricks for Staying True to Who You Are by model and actress Nicole Weider. Both are Christian authors who are inspiring young women to love their bodies as God created them, and to embrace a modest approach to fashion and beauty. These books have strong positive messages about how young women can uphold their values in today’s world while still feeling beautiful and staying true to their faith and integrity.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. — Psalm 139:14
Let’s raise girls who can truly say with their whole heart that they are fearfully and wonderfully made!
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What have you learned about raising tween girls to have a healthy body image and find security in who God made them to be? Come share with us on our blog.