Hey, Mommas, She’s Listening

I’ve had a common theme coming up in conversation lately. Friends asking how to talk to their sisters, brainstorming with adults about how to fix the problem, and a class discussion headed by our Nutrition professor. Everybody has the same question and the same absence of answers.

What do we say when younger girls come to us talking about how much they hate the way look?

What do we say when the voices in their heads echo “You aren’t pretty enough. You aren’t skinny enough. You aren’t popular. If only you looked like this you would be happy.”

What magic words can we use to make these girls realize they are fixated on the wrong things. That these things don’t define who they are.

How do we get them to understand that their jean size is merely an arbitrary number that doesn’t measure their intelligence, their kindness, their creativity, their beauty, or their worth?

What do you say to the group of 12 years old when one asks how much she should weigh because she’s been weighing herself everyday? Or the one who asks you what the fastest way to lose fat is? And the one who asks why throwing up your food is bad for you? Or the one who asks if it’s possible to exercise too much when you’re trying to lose weight?

For my professor who was asked to speak to a group of 12 year olds girls, this was her reality. These were the kinds of questions the girls wanted answers to. Regardless of the size the girls were, they all wanted to be something different. They were ALL trying to figure out how they could change their body into something better. They wanted to “fix” all the things they saw wrong with their appearance, especially their weight. As if that discussion wasn’t startling enough, our professor also spoke to a group of 4th grade girls who were asking the same things. Fourth grade. And they were already seeing themselves as flawed. As individuals who were so unhappy with their physical appearance that they were seeking ways to change it. 9 and 10 year old girls already contemplating skipping meals or vomiting to avoid “being fat.”

Shouldn’t 4th graders be worried about picking teams at recess or playing candy crush or something? Why do we have girls as young as 9 trying to lose weight?

When did they decide they weren’t good enough anymore? How did they decide what they should look like? And who’s responsible for the lies these girls are believing?

Is it the media? Absolutely. When we plaster magazines with photoshopped perfection and portray the most popular girl in all the movies or shows as, incidentally, the most physically attractive individual, what kind of message are we sending? For one, magazines are portraying a false reality. They are passing off pictures of individuals that don’t exist, and setting girls and guys up for failure when they set those images as their “dream body”. And when it comes to the movies or TV shows, we’re communicating the harsh message that being physically attractive in the eyes’ of others gives you more worth. That being attractive is more important than being kind, or honest, or loving. But as dangerous as the media is in this respect, they aren’t the only ones responsible. Yes, they play a big role, but that’s not the whole story. I would venture to say there’s someone else who plays an even bigger role than the media in the way our young girls see themselves.

Hey, mommas, I’m talking to you.

Your role as her mother is so so important. You can’t protect her from all of the messages of society. You can’t keep her from seeing the girls on the magazines or noticing the common theme among the popular kids in movies or shows, but you can teach her about what’s infinitely more important than all the things society is screaming at her to change. You can start at a young age and remind her that her worth is given to her by her Heavenly Father and no one can take that away. You can teach her all of the things that matter more than her physical appearance like being kind, patient, honest, friendly, loving, and respectful. But what is going to teach your precious daughter how she should view her physical appearance more than anything else, is your example.

“She will learn how to treat and talk about her body from you. Be careful what you teach her.” Have you ever thought about that?

When you’re standing in front of the mirror on a particularly terrible day when nothing seems to look good or fit right and, in disgust, make a comment about how you need to lose a few pounds, have you ever checked to see if she was listening?

When you announce that you’re going on a diet because you have gotten fat, have you ever wondered what that makes her think about her own body?

When you pull at the “baby pooch” you have left from pregnancy and talk about how terribly you need to workout and get rid of it, have you ever considered that she’s going back to her room and doing the same in front of her mirror?

Have you ever considered that her dissatisfaction with her own body comes from seeing and hearing the way you talk about yours? The possibility that maybe she decided something was wrong with her body because she’s heard you say all the things that are wrong with yours?

Mommas, don’t hear me as saying that when your daughter hits those dreaded middle school years and declares she’s “so ugly and no one likes me” that it’s your fault. Eventually, society’s voice is going to drown out yours and it’s possible she will start listening to all the noise. But don’t let that lie start in your home. Don’t lead her, by your example, to be dissatisfied with her body.

A negative body image leads to so many things that you never want to deal with. Things you never want your child to experience. And like the old sayings goes, “Prevention is the best medicine.”

Next time you’re tempted to make a comment about needing to change the way you look, remember the huge role you play in her life. Remind yourself that she’s listening and watching, and will eventually be imitating you. Remember how important it is to talk about the things you like about your appearance, not the things you hate.

Think about it this way. To her, you are the most beautiful woman that was ever created. And when you start pointing out the things you think are wrong or ugly, she starts criticizing her own body. Because if the most beautiful woman she’s ever known has imperfections, then there becomes no doubt in her little mind that she has even more things wrong with her.

Don’t let her think that. Don’t let her hear you say you’re fat, or ugly, or need to fix this or that. Don’t joke about needing plastic surgery or wishing you looked like the models on TV. Don’t let her think it’s acceptable to hate her body.

“I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons. Let them never be Stupid Girls.” – J.K. Rowling
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