As I watch my girls grow right before my eyes I find myself imagining what kinds of people they’ll be one day. What their views of themselves will be. And I worry about what they will face when I’m not always close by. When I’m not the only one whose approval they will seek. I know that despite my very best efforts I won’t be able to prevent them from comparing themselves to others, having negative thoughts, and experiencing judgement.
There are numerous articles out there that discuss the growing concern over the negative messages young children are receiving. In fact, girls as young as 5 are reporting that they feel self conscious about the way they look. While weight seems to be the biggest source of insecurity, there are many things that appear to be troublesome. Girls feel anxiety about everything – height, hair, teeth, and physical maturity. Basically anything that could be viewed as “different.”
I’ve read heartbreaking accounts from young girls (even an 8 year old girl) about the moment they first recall feeling self-conscience about their bodies. Obviously, the media plays a major role in bolstering the “perfect” body image. TV, magazines, and social media include a constant stream of these images. Comments from other children can be devastating to young kids who just want to fit in. But I was most surprised and saddened to read that many of these cases involved a parent saying something negative about the child or a derogatory statement about themselves. When the opinion of a parent can mean so much, it’s no wonder girls feel insignificant at times.
As a parent to two girls, this is something that worries me. I feel overwhelmed when I imagine the encounters they will face in the future. What if someone teases them about their looks? What if they are bullied? Laughed at? Can I somehow prevent them from feeling bad about themselves…ever? Kids don’t always understand the full weight of their words. And it’s impossible to prevent them from being exposed to the images all around.
Madison and Ashlyn are self-assured in a way that most two year olds are. They laugh together and at themselves. They try to show off for me (“Look at this mommy!”) which makes me smile. I love when Maddie twirls around when I put a dress on her and I love when Ashlyn tells me to watch how fast she can run. I never want their feelings to change. I never want them to feel anything less than proud of themselves.
But I know that’s not possible all the time.
A few weeks ago it was cold and rainy and I told Maddie that she couldn’t wear a dress to school. She looked at me with a pout on her face and said, “But mommy, if I don’t wear a dress then I won’t be a pretty princess.” She’s only two yet she has made the connection that princesses wear dresses and they are pretty. Maybe I am reading too much into it, but this is where I need to give her my opinion. I let her know that princesses can wear pants, too.
I give the girls compliments frequently. And I say specific things that I cherish and recognize about each of them. I’ll tell Maddie she is so kind and thoughtful. And I tell Ashlyn she is funny and so very helpful at times. And, of course, I tell them they are beautiful and special. They look to me so often for approval. But I can see they are starting to take notice of things and of themselves. So as much as possible, before they start to compare themselves to others, I’m going to let them know how extraordinary they are.
And so to my sweet little girls I want to say the following:
I know you will never love yourself as much as I do. You cannot possibly understand the depth of my feelings for you. At least not until you have your own children. So, I only ask that you love yourself as much as you can. To know that there are special and beautiful things about each of you. There will be times when you doubt yourself. You will find fault in everything from your appearance to your abilities. But never let that settle in you . And more importantly never let someone else put that doubt in you. You are beyond comparison.