As a young woman, I hated going to the hairdresser because I didn’t like looking at myself in a mirror for an extended length of time. Funnily enough, as I have gotten older, and am definitely more wrinkly, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did when I was a teenager. Back then, I never thought that I had small enough ears, a straight enough nose, or a nice jawline. As an adult, I have come to accept the things I don’t like about myself and even embrace them. More importantly, though, I no longer focus on my faults because I am too busy living life to be very concerned.
For most women, body positivity is a life long process. Seeing my own teenage daughters micro-focus on themselves and pick apart their bodies is painful, especially when I see them as nothing less than perfect. Remembering my own experience with the mirrors at the hair salon makes me shudder because now I see my own kids take dozens of photos of themselves a day on Snapchat. I see them pore over the photos on Instagram, following celebrities and makeup artists and other women whose lives, bodies and faces seem absolutely perfect through a photo filter. Anything in the media is also ridiculously photoshopped, and while they are educated about it, I know it still casts a shadow of doubt over them, regarding their own bodies.
As a parent, I’ve tried to reinforce images of strength and health as beautiful. I know that being a teen is hard, and going through body changes are hard. My oldest daughter was in tears just a few days ago after trying on dance costumes for the upcoming season and comparing herself to others in the class. While she is extremely fit and strong, she sees that as a weakness compared to girls that are taller, lankier or smaller. Teaching body positivity is tough, especially knowing from personal experience that it is a lifelong battle.
We have made so much progress over the last several years with heightened awareness around bullying and tolerance. Teens are much more open towards other kids that are different, in their culture, looks, and sexuality. However, self-acceptance seems to be something that needs practice and is a life-long work in progress.
There are some amazing resources that I have found for parents that are also going through the same stages with their own daughters:
- The Dove Self-Esteem Project – Since 2004, the Dove Self-Esteem Project has created education programs and activities for girls struggling with beauty and self-esteem anxieties. This website is chock-full of activities and resources for parents and educators working with children and young women.
- Beauty Redefined – An educational website with a variety of resources aimed at helping girls and women recognize, reject, and resist harmful messages about their bodies. You can listen to a podcast interview of the co-founder, Lindsay Kite, PhD, here.
- A Mighty Girl Blog offers a comprehensive list of body image positive books for girls of all ages and cultures.
I am certainly not an expert in body positivity, but having teenage daughters forces me to think about it differently and try to be smart in my words and actions. Teaching them to use and respect their own physical power happens bit by bit, every single day.