Growing up, I remember flipping through magazines and seeing girls on the pages who looked nothing like me. They had blindingly white teeth, miles-long legs and ab muscles that you could count. They had extra-long hair and eyelashes, and their nails were manicured with a French tip. I strived to be like them but, as much as I tried, I never achieved the same look. Instead, I’d stare at myself in the mirror for hours, contorting my body so it kind of resembled the ideal woman splashed across the pages of my favorite glossy.
Nowadays, I am a mom, and my body has shown me how much praise it deserves. I have delivered two healthy babies — no amount of spray tan or hair extensions could create something so magical. I realize now that, no matter what we look like, women are incredible. The world seems to be shifting perspective, too, with so many body positivity movements sweeping social media and real life.
I’m so glad my girls get to grow up in this period of enlightenment. Still, I know they might feel societal pressure to look a certain way. That’s why I’m going to boost body positivity in them, so they love themselves as much as they deserve. Here are four ways I’m doing it.
1. I’m Not Beating Myself Up
Before I could foster body positivity in my daughters, I had to teach it to myself. Otherwise, I might pass my attitude onto them, regardless of how much I assured them they were perfect in every way.
I started this journey by vowing to speak positively of myself. No longer do I comment on my looks in front of my daughters — I don’t want them being so critical of themselves. Sure, I have thoughts from time to time that drag down my self-esteem, but I’m working on quieting them. Meditation has helped, and plenty of mantras and guided sessions exist to help boost confidence.
With practice, I’ve been able to speak kindly about myself. I want my daughters to love themselves, too, so I am leading by example.
2. We’re Eating Well
Body negativity isn’t the only bad habit our children can pick up from us. Let’s say I forgo a meal because I’m trying to lose weight. My daughters then catch wind of what I’m doing, and, down the line, they might think to do the same. I don’t want my daughters to demonize food, so I make sure to model healthy eating habits for them.
It’s more than just sitting down for three meals a day. I want to make sure my daughters pick up as many healthy eating habits as possible. My husband and I make sure to whip up balanced meals that provide them with the nutrients they need. Of course, every now and then we have treats, too — growing up without a bit of sugar wouldn’t be right.
When it comes to improving a child’s diet, it’s all about small changes. You don’t want to overhaul it at once — they won’t want to switch from pizza and chicken nuggets to veggies and lean protein overnight. Instead, ease everyone into healthy lifestyle habits, and you’ll all be better for it.
3. My Husband Chimes In
It’s not all about advice and modeling from mom — although my lead is important. My husband has also stepped up to the plate to ensure our daughters love themselves. For one thing, he compliments the girls on all they do well. It’s not just about how pretty they are, but what else they have accomplished in school, sports, activities and more. We want our daughters to know they aren’t just what they look like, so focusing on their other strengths helps with that.
Sometimes, we’ll catch ourselves watching TV or movies in which the female characters care more about their looks than anything else. My husband has done a great job pointing out and redirecting such behaviors. He says it’s silly for these women to focus so intently on their looks, and our daughters seem to agree. It’s so nice to have an ally in this, so enlist your partner to help you, too.
4. We’re Building Resilience
We can’t protect our children from everything. As much as I strive to boost body positivity within our home, the rest of the world exists. As we all know, not everyone’s that kind.
I have also taken steps to make my daughters as strong as possible in the face of such hurtful criticism. We do so in a number of ways. For instance, I’ve taught my girls the beauty of self-care. We consider their after-school activities self-care now, as they have the chance to sweat, exercise and make friendships. I also allow them to ask for relaxing downtime, especially when they’re feeling sad or overwhelmed by something. Then, they rest, recharge and rebuild their resilience to something hurtful that could happen down the line.
The best way of doing this is by showing my daughters they should always love themselves. I think I’m off to a great start — they know their worth because my husband and I remind them every single day. I want to make sure that, as the years go on, they know their value has nothing to do with their looks. Yes, I think they’re perfect and beautiful, but such labels do not define them. Instead, they are worthy of everything because of who they are inside.
Jennifer Landis is a mom of two, writer, blogger, and brunch aficionado. She enjoys pop culture podcasts, drinks her bodyweight in sparkling water every day, and enjoys doing Pilates. Find more from Jennifer on her blog, Mindfulness Mama. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.