You Don't Have to be Pretty . . . or Thin
You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend or spouse or partner, not to your co-workers or friends, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe prettiness to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not the rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female.”
Blogger, Erin McKean
Most women can relate to feeing judged by others on their body shape and size, whether it is by family, friends or strangers. Paul Campos, author of The Diet Myth remarks, “We live in a culture that tells the average American woman dozens of times per day that the shape of her body is the most important thing about her.”
Our teenage girls live this reality. They spend chunks of time fishing for likes on social media as they alter images of their appearance with digital enhancement apps on their phones.
Our kids aren’t fully living their lives if they spend copious amounts of time worrying about how they appear to others. They can’t progress toward personal goals if their idea of success and happiness depends on meeting appearance criteria determined by Kardashian Culture.
While we can’t turn off the culture just by turning off The Kardashians show, we can try to make some of the shallow values espoused by our culture matter less. The more focused our kids are on the noise of what others expect, the less they can hear their own thoughts and needs. We can coach our children to stop seeing themselves through our body-obsessed culture’s eyes, and switch the vantage point to inside themselves.
Girl empowerment author, Rachel Simmons says in Enough As She Is, “As with so many other domains in girls’ lives, the moment girls let go of pleasing others, they can find their center.”
Unplug from others’ evaluations
A great way to teach our kids to unplug from what other think, is to help them find other pieces of themselves to hinge their self-worth upon besides their appearance. How can we find and encourage their abilities, character, purposeful work, relationships, or spiritual pursuits? When we nurture and grow other potentials, the appearance piece of the self-worth pie (right) will become smaller and less important.
This pie chart has components of self-worth illustrated in equal amounts, but this combination is personal to each individual. For some, their appearance slice could be the only way that they define themselves and take up 80% of the pie. Our mission is to reduce the appearance slice and grow the others.
Each child has an inherited kernel of talent and drive to become who they need to be. A child just needs to be given the right circumstances and options to meet their potential. From our perspective as parents, it's our attunement to them -- our ability to read the particular child in front of us -- that can be the help they need to get in touch with their authentic self.
This suggestion is to find something they could focus on that they would value in themselves instead of being too reliant on their appearance for their self-esteem. This isn’t about taking up a hobby like bowling or finding another notch on the college application list. To actually expand their sense of themselves, what they are doing needs to mean something to them. It needs to be something that they will value in themselves.
Reading your child
So, how do you help your child find these authentic pieces of themselves? Often we as parents are parenting smaller versions of ourselves, or even a fantasy, perfect child in our mind. Sometimes our own hopes and aspirations for them may have more to do with our own needs than with who our kids are. We dream these dreams for them even as our own children with their own unique person possibilities stand right there in front of us. It just takes a moment and some focus to stop and notice them:
- What does your child choose to do in their spare time?
- Do they love to read? Draw? Dance? Make music? Create things?
- What are they doing when they are happiest and at ease?
- What do they love to play?
- How do they like to move?
- Who does your child love to be with?
- Is your child happiest surrounded by people?
- Do they enjoy their alone time?
- Which relationships do they value? Being a friend, grandchild, child, sibling?
- Does your child love being surrounded by family?
- Which subjects in school does your child love?
- Which subjects do they dislike?
- Which assignments are particularly fun or tedious?
- Where do they like to help out around the home? Ex. Cooking, organizing
- What tasks to they accept easily and which ones do they argue with?
- Positive examples: helpful, friendly, compassionate, generous, creative, thoughtful, honest, athletic, brave, warm-hearted, fair-minded, curious, hard-working, fun, reliable, respectful, caring, loving, mature
- Name 5 positive character traits you love about your child?
- Is there anything they could do that would make use of these? Ex. My son has always been fair-minded. Would he find meaning and purpose in volunteering in an underserved school?
- Is your child interested in religion?
- Is your child interested in meditation?
- Do they ask big abstract questions about the meaning of life or god?
Do you notice something about your child that you could support, highlight or enhance?
I think this focus on their potential is an opportunity for you to find ways for them to value, develop, and define themselves. For younger children, this might be about exposing them to options and noticing their reactions. For teenagers, it might be following their lead allowing them the space to define themselves.
Putting focus on their unique possibilities gives them the freedom and opportunity to get off the scale, step away from the mirror and spend more time thinking of being something other than thin and pretty.
- Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Body Respect, 2014.
- Carolyn Costin, Your Dieting Daughter, 2013 (2nd edition).
- Renee Engeln, Beauty Sick, 2017.
- Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel, Beyond a Shadow of a Diet, 2014 (2nd edition).
- Rachel Simmons, Enough As She Is, 2018.
- Connie Sobcazk, Embody, 2014.
- Julia V. Taylor, The Body Image Workbook for Teens, 2014.
- Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch,Intuitive Eating Workbook: 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food, 2017.