Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Subtle Ways to Build a Healthy Self-Image

Welcome to the October 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Instilling a Healthy Self-Image
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared confessions, wisdom, and goals for helping children love who they are. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Let's be honest. Over the years I've struggled to build and maintain a healthy self-image for myself. I've struggled with my body image and my self-esteem, depression and anxiety. Now that I have a daughter, I worry about how these things will affect her. I want her to know and believe she's beautiful. I want her to have confidence in her strength and intellect. I want to protect her from the tidal wave of marketing that will tell her she's not good enough. I want her to know image isn't everything. At the same time I don't want to ignore it because it's present in every facet of culture in the US.
These are the shoes she picked out this morning. She prefers that they don't match.
So, I do what I do when I'm concerned about something--I research. I read. I obsess. My husband and I watch documentaries (for a partial list of the sources I've been examining most recently see the links at the bottom of this post).  I argue with myself every time she sees a Disney movie. In my head I go over the discussions we'll have as she gets older. I worry about boundaries and embracing things I dislike because my daughter loves them. I try not to make things more appealing by forbidding them completely. I try to prepare myself for compromise. 

Mainly, I try to put all the scary research aside and just love my daughter.

Every day we tell her she's beautiful. We tell her first thing in the morning when she has bed head and mismatched pajamas and sleep in her eyes.

Every day we tell her she's smart. We tell her every time she remembers something complicated or surprises us with her insightful, two-year-old's perspective of the world. 

Every day when we see her learn something new, show concern for a friend, use polite manners, give us hugs without prompting, or climb to new heights at the playground we tell her she's talented, compassionate, sweet, sensitive, and strong.

If she picks out her own clothes and they don't match, we tell her she looks awesome and congratulate her on getting ready all by herself. We don't tell her she did it wrong. If her choice is inappropriate for a public outing or the weather (i.e. half a swimsuit and a underwear or a winter sweater on a 100 degree day) we kindly guide her to a better choice--but she decides what she'll change into. 

When she wanted a Spiderman costume we said yes. When she said she wanted to be Rapunzel for Halloween we said, yes. If she decides to wear the princess dress with the Spiderman mask, I'll be sure to take a lot of pictures. It's a pretty awesome combination.

It's normal to see her playing soccer or baseball in a tutu.  

I'm sure there are people who will read this and think we're spoiling her. I don't think so. We have to tell her "no" more than I care to admit. She definitely doesn't always get her way. But when there is an opportunity for her to safely make decisions independently, we give her the chance to do so.

By allowing her to gain confidence in her decision making ability at a young age (and argue her case if we disagree) I think we're providing her with skills she'll continue to use and develop as she grows up. I hope that instead of simply being able to follow directions she'll be able to make conscious decisions and stand up for what she believes is right. She'll have confidence in herself. She'll have a healthy self-image. 

As for protecting her from all the crazy marketing out there...I'll continue to research and educate myself so we can have honest discussions with her as she gets older. In the meantime we try to limit her screen time (and we're pretty picky about what she watches) and we don't have commercial television in the house. The marketing is still there every time we leave the house--on billboards, at stores, etc. but hopefully we can lessen it's impact a little by keeping an open dialogue as she becomes more aware of it and how it affects her.

And she's already aware of a lot--make-up, nail polish, pretty dresses, shoes. She doesn't miss a thing. I do what I can to make sure she doesn't pick up anything negative, self-critical habits from me. I avoid saying anything bad about my body in front of her. If she sees me putting on make-up (not something that happens very often anymore) we talk about how it's just for fun, like playing dress-up--like putting on a tutu for a dance party in the living room. My husband is wonderful. He's especially conscious of telling her how beautiful her mommy is and how neither of us need make-up to be beautiful. We try to balance comments on her looks with comments on her intellect and strength. 

I still worry though. Not long ago my husband told our daughter she looked beautiful. She was wearing her favorite dress and eating breakfast. She said, "no daddy, my dress is beautiful." He said, "no, you're beautiful". She kept arguing that it was the dress that was beautiful...she wouldn't back down.

At least I know she's gaining confidence.

Like I said, I'll keep researching and try not to completely freak out about all the crazy things I learn. Next on my list is to attend a screening of the documentary Miss Representation.

And in case you're interested. Here's a bit of what we've been reading and watching lately:
What do you do to build a healthy self-image in your children?
Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon October 9 with all the carnival links.)
  • Why I Walk Around Naked — Meegs at A New Day talks about how she embraces her own body so that her daughter might embrace hers.
  • What I Am Is Not Who I Am — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses her views on the importance of modeling WHO she is for her daughter and not WHAT she sees in the mirror.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Verbs vs. Adjectives — Alisha at Cinnamon & Sassafras tries hard to compliment what her son does, not who he is.
  • The Naked Family — Sam at Love Parenting talks about how nudity and bodily functions are approached in her home.
  • How She'll See Herself — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis discusses some of the challenges of raising a daughter in our culture and how she's hoping to overcome them.
  • Self Esteem and all it's pretty analogies — Musings from Laura at Pug in the Kitchen on what she learned about self-esteem in her own life and how it applies to her parenting.
  • Beautiful — Tree at Mom Grooves writes about giving her daughter the wisdom to appreciate her body and how trying to be a role model taught Tree how to appreciate her own.
  • Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Nurturing A Healthy Body Image — Christy at Eco Journey in the Burbs is changing perceptions about her body so that she may model living life with a positive, healthy body image for her three young daughters.
  • Some{BODY} to LoveKate Wicker has faced her own inner demons when it comes to a poor body image and even a clinical eating disorder, and now she wants to help her daughters to be strong in a world that constantly puts girls at risk for losing their true selves. This is Kate's love letter to her daughters reminding them to not only accept their bodies but to accept themselves as well in every changing season of life.
  • They Make Creams For That, You Know — Destany at They Are All of Me writes about celebrating her natural beauty traits, especially the ones she passed onto her children.
  • New Shoes for Mama — Kellie of Our Mindful Life, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, is getting some new shoes, even though she is all grown up…
  • Raising boys with bodily integrity — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants her boys to understand their own bodily autonomy — so they'll respect their own and others'.
  • Sowing seeds of self-love in our children — After struggling to love herself despite growing up in a loving family, Shonnie at Heart-Led Parenting has suggestions for parents who truly want to nurture their children's self-esteem.
  • Subtle Ways to Build a Healthy Self-Image — Emily at S.A.H.M i AM discusses the little things she and her husband do every day to help their daughter cultivate a healthy self-image.
  • On Barbie and Baby Bikinis: The Sexualization of Young Girls — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger finds it difficult to keep out the influx of messages aimed at her young daughters that being sexy is important.
  • Undistorted — Focusing on the beauty and goodness that her children hold, Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children watches them grow, loved and undistorted.
  • Off The Hook — Arpita at Up, Down and Natural sheds light on the journey of infertility, and how the inability to get pregnant and stay pregnant takes a toll on self image…only if you let it. And that sometimes, it feels fantastic to just let yourself off the hook.
  • Going Beyond Being An Example — Becky at Old New Legacy discusses three suggestions on instilling healthy body image: positivity, family dinners, and productivity.
  • Raising a Confident Kid — aNonymous at Radical Ramblings describes the ways she's trying to raise a confident daughter and to instil a healthy attitude to appearance and self-image.
  • Instilling a Healthy Self Image — Laura at This Mama's Madness hopes to promote a healthy self-image in her kids by treating herself and others with respect, honesty, and grace.
  • Stories of our Uniqueness — Casey at Sesame Seed Designs looks for a connection to the past and celebrates the stories our bodies can tell about the present.
  • Helping My Boy Build a Healthy Body Image — Lyndsay at ourfeminist{play}school offers readers a collection of tips and activities that she uses in her journey to helping her 3-year-old son shape a healthy body image.
  • Eat with Joy and Thankfulness: A Letter to my Daughters about Food — Megan at The Boho Mama writes a letter to her daughters about body image and healthy attitudes towards food.
  • Helping Our Children Have Healthy Body Images — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares information about body image, and her now-adult daughter tells how she kept a healthy body image through years of ballet and competitive figure skating.
  • Namaste — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment shares how at barely 6 years old, her daughter has begun to say, "I'm not beautiful." And while it's hard to listen to, she also sees it as a sign her daughter is building her self-image in a grassroots kind of way.
  • 3 Activities to Help Instill a Healthy Self-Image in Your Child — Explore the changing ideals of beauty, create positive affirmations, and design a self-image awareness collage. Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares these 3 ideas + a pretty affirmation graphic you can print and slip in your child's lunchbox.
  • Beautiful, Inside and Out — It took a case of adult-onset acne for Kat of MomeeeZen to find out her parenting efforts have resulted in a daughter that is truly beautiful, inside and out.
  • Mirroring Positive Self Image for Toddlers — Shannon at GrowingSlower reflects on encouraging positive self image in even the youngest members of the family.
  • How I hope to instill a healthy body image in my two girls — Raising daughters with healthy body image in today's society is no small task, but Xela at The Happy Hippie Homemaker shares how choosing our words carefully and being an example can help our children learn to love their bodies.
  • Self Image has to Come from WithinMomma Jorje shares all of the little things she does to encourage healthy attitudes in her children, but realizes she can't give them their self images.
  • Protecting the Gift — JW from True Confessions of a Real Mommy wants you to stop thinking you need to boost your child up: they think they are wonderful all on their own.
  • Learning to Love Myself, for my Daughter — Michelle at Ramblings of Mitzy addresses her own poor self-image.
  • Nurturing An Innate Sense of Self — Marisa at Deliberate Parenting shares her efforts to preserve the confidence and healthy sense of self they were born with.
  • Don't You Love Me, Mommy?: Instilling Self-Esteem in Young Children After New Siblings Arrive — Jade at Seeing Through Jade Glass But Dimly hopes that her daughter will learn to value herself as an individual rather than just Momma's baby
  • Exercising is FUN — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work talks about modeling for her children that exercising is FUN and good for body and soul.
  • Poor Little Chicken — Kenna at A Million Tiny Things gets her feathers ruffled over her daughter's clothing anxiety.
  • Loving the skin she's in — Mama Pie at Downside Up and Outside In struggles with her little berry's choice not to celebrate herself and her heritage.
  • Perfect the Way I Am — Erika at Cinco de Mommy struggles — along with her seven-year-old daughter — at telling herself she's perfect just the way she is.


  1. Emily I relate to your research habit and also to your desire to help your daughter grow with more confidence in herself than you had in yourself. I think one of the biggest challenges in helping our children cultivate a positive self-image is giving them the freedom to choose what we wouldn't choose in their place. When my daughter gets that princess wand at the consignment store what I do/say says more about me and my beliefs, desires, fears, etc. than about her, yet it impacts her anyway.

  2. Oh thank you for posting the resources! My daughter is only 18 months, but I see her frequently mixing the pretty and fluffy girly items with her desire to keep up with daddy and big brother and I love it.

  3. I read Cinderella Ate My daughter recently - great book! I've also been terrified to have a daughter who gets caught up in the princess/pink/frilly girl culture. I hope that she is as comfortable in her skin as your daughter seems to be!

  4. I really love this. It takes so relatively little and means so much to let your kids pick out their own clothing and take charge of their self-image in that way. We do the same, which means sometimes we end up in the grocery store with a superhero astronaut pirate! I love the stares and smiles, though. :)

    1. This morning, along with the mix-matched shoes, she finally decided on a pair of leggings with a watermelon print, a sailing t-shirt that said, "Dad's First Mate" and sunglasses. We got some stares and smiles for sure. I love the superhero astronaut pirate : )

  5. thank you for the list of links!1 We did read Cinderella ate my daughter, but we'd love to see the documentary.
    We're very like you. Everything you wrote about resonates with me. We've had to try to mitigate our "over-praising" with helping her realize her own accomplishments.. I do think it's important. But our 5 year old seems to be getting it. The other day she said something so genius and I said, "that's really smart, you're so smart" and she just laughed and said, "i know I'm smart." like, "duh" I loved it.
    And the mismatched shoes is fabulous. I always let her dress herself. She's absolutely certain about her tastes.
    By the way I love the name of your blog! Made me giggle.

    1. I totally worry about over-praising. I worry that somehow we'll give her a false sense of reality...but at the same time it's not a false sense except that other people might not agree. I don't know if that makes sense but it's one of those mama worries I have. I'm glad your 5 year old seems to be getting it. That's awesome!

  6. Thanks for all the great feedback and you're welcome for the links. I'm sure there are several I'm forgetting them. I'll update this post as I think of them : ) Another documentary I really found thought provoking was "Mickey Mouse Monopoly" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byaMd_PNyIY). It used to be available in several parts on YouTube but now it looks like just the first part is available. But it's worth checking out. It really gave me a lot to think about in terms of the conversations we'll have about the media and Disney/princesses in the future.

  7. Hi Emily - thanks for sharing this. I think the world is slightly more difficult for moms of girls. I have all boys, and I am super protective, but don't worry so much about this part of their image. One thing I will say though, is that Television doesn't play much of a role in our world at all, because I don't like the ads. I mean - I personally love Advertising and Marketing and all that - I don't like the ads geared to kids that make them think they need to have this or that toy, more sugar, all that jazz. We don't watch television. We have Friday night movie nights. Or they watch videos of Tom & Jerry or Pinky & The Brain. Regular TV is just not healthy for my boys at least.



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