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Teaching Our Daughters Positive Self-Talk

When my 6-year-old daughter with long, lanky legs called her thighs fat, I knew something had to change. I didn’t know body image issues would come so early.

body image

Huffing into the mirror last week, my 6-year-old waved a brush in her hand and groaned, “My hair is so puffy all the time. All I see when I look in the mirror is puffy, puffy, puffy!” She had tears in her eyes.

Beautiful dirty-blonde beach waves make up her head of hair. Women my age buy bottles of sea salt spray that promise the natural volume she already has. Apparently that’s only something 35-year-old women want, not first grade girls.

Her comment flashed me back to the week before when she called her younger sister into the room. “You have to see my thighs! They’re so fat when I squish them like this! Fat thighs! Fat thighs!” she chanted. They giggled together.

At 4’5″, she is the tallest in her class and anything but fat. She measures in the 64th percentile for weight. Her long lanky legs (plus her missing front tooth) have pushed her to just encroaching the awkward middle elementary stage.

Knowing how terrible self-talk feels when you’re believing those lies about yourself, I began to tear up too. I wanted to stop right there and scold her unnecessary silliness. Hold her for the unnecessary pressures she felt about her looks. Discipline her for teaching her 5-year-old sister to think something like that is funny. And shield her from a world that has already inadvertently taught her these unhealthy body image ideals.

I didn’t do any of that. I was so stunned by her tears over the hair God gave her, all I could do was pray. Which was the best choice after all.

Through my own shaky voice, I spoke out loud. “God, I know right now Audrey only sees puffy hair. But You see something different. Give her Your eyes to see herself the way You see her. I pray she would believe she is fearfully and wonderfully made. That when she looks in the mirror all she will see is someone loved and valuable, who reflects Your image.”

She rolled her eyes in response. The sure sign that a hard motherhood job is just beginning.

Negative self-talk

She knows saying “puffy hair, puffy hair, fat thighs, fat thighs” to a classmate would get her in serious trouble, seriously fast. So why does she think it’s okay to talk about herself that way?

On a recent Friday, she had a special dress-up school occasion. I was at work while she got ready. My husband reported that she carefully picked her chambray flowered dress, but then had a hard time settling on shoes. She lugged several pairs into our bedroom to start her analysis in front of our full-length mirror.

He watched her slip on one style, then turn from side to side. She slipped on another pair and looked from the back. She mixed and matched pairs with one shoe on either foot. When he finally asked her what she was doing, she responded, “Mommy always does this to decide.”

I have to admit I do! Maybe part of where she has learned these body image ideals has been from watching her very own mother.

Prohibiting negative speech to those around us is important. But I realized I need to be teaching her and her little sister that talking to ourselves that way isn’t acceptable either.

We’re working to change the body image script in our house. I don’t want criticizing our looks or our bodies to be a natural inclination. Instead, I want the truth of who God made us to be, to become the natural overflow that we believe about ourselves.

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This is going to take work, so I’m going to:

Help my girls memorize and apply the truth in God’s Word.

New required memory verses in our house are Genesis 1:27 and Psalm 139:14.  Since we know God created each of us in His image, then our images must be breathtaking. Imagine the glory and beauty of God, packaged and formed delicately into two curly-haired girls.

Consider all of the other parts of creation that reflect who God is. We marvel at the early spring daffodils, are speechless at a starlit expanse, cannot fathom the colors of the deep sea. Let’s put ourselves in the right category: meticulous handiwork of God that shouts His glory to a wondering world. When we remember that, we can rightly meditate on who we are and remember our great worth. Even if we don’t like our hair or our thighs.

Teach them to look at the right One.

Having a right view of their bodies doesn’t come from believing the truth about themselves at first. It starts with believing the truth about God. My girls have to know He is their creator. They have to believe He is good and loving.

When we as women of any age struggle with that pointed chin, big nose, fluffy waist, we have our eyes too tightly focused on ourselves. If we look upon our good, loving Creator, our self-doubt diminishes as we become lost in the gaze of His majesty. A majesty that we, as His beloved creation, reflect with every breath.

Compliment my girls on character qualities.

I made a pact with myself when I found out our first baby was a girl: I will not pressure her about her looks. I didn’t think I had necessarily. But I do compliment our daughters when I like the color they’re wearing or the way their hair looks pulled back a certain way. I certainly want my daughters to know they’re beautiful, but I don’t want them to think beauty comes primarily from the outside.

So I’m adding to my compliment list intentional recognition of character traits: How caring of you when you share with your sister. That was very thoughtful to fill up your sister’s school water bottle. What a kind friend you are when you craft a card for our neighbor’s birthday. You are so funny and lighten everyone’s mood when you tell the those silly knock-knock jokes. And I’m going to ask them to identify character traits and personality nuances they like about themselves too.

Practice giving God credit for how He made me.

If I can model confidence in my outward appearance, my girls will notice. I think I’m going to practice the first two points above as the woman of our house too.

I’m going to keep praying privately and publicly for my two young girls. Asking that they’ll have the courage to listen to God’s voice about their worth, over the millions of voices in our world. And especially over their own inner critic.


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