Do you feel beautiful?
Ask 100 women, and only 4 of them will say yes.
You’d think that, as grown women, we’d have grown out of not feeling confident. Our face in the mirror is a familiar friend. We should accept that this is the body we live in.
Many people blame airbrushed advertising and unrealistic standards of beauty for the way women feel about themselves, but that’s only part of the story.
The real story began when you were just a girl.
The Roots of Body Image
Body image gets formed early in life.
We know this, because body image issues start well before adolescence. By the age of 7, one in four children has been on a diet. 
Children absorb body image messages from their parents from as young as 5. If a girl hears her mother complaining about her body, she’s likely to feel dissatisfied with her own body, too.
As parents, that means we have a very small window to help our daughters build an unassailable sense of their own strength and feminine power.
If we wait too long, they’ll have already entered the turbulent teenage years when they turn away from us. They’ll listen to their peers for guidance on what they should think of their bodies. And those messages won’t always be body positive.
What Did Your Family Teach You?
This got me thinking about what I learned about my body as a kid.
The strongest message I got from my family was that beauty is God-given. Either you’re born with it, or you’re not. And no one in my family was “born with it.” We had short legs, round figures, and an unfortunate tendency towards hair loss in later years.
For women like us, there was only one option:
Wear cute outfits. Get a perm. Cover up that body so no one sees it.
But every year, we sat down as a family and watched the Miss America pageant. I feasted my eyes on the ball gowns. I longed for a long, lean figure that could pose unselfconsciously in a swimsuit. I knew I would never be up on that stage, no matter how much I dieted or teased my hair. I was born with short, dumpy genes. That was my destiny.
It’s a devastating one-two punch for a child. You’ll never have the right figure, BUT those women with the “right” figure get a chance to win fame, fortune, and national acclaim.
Now that I’m a parent myself, I want to break the cycle.
I want to raise a daughter who’s confident in her body, no matter what her shape might be.
I can’t control the images she sees in the media. I can’t help the fact that 87% of the girls in the television programs she adores are underweight.  I can’t make-over the dolls she gets at Christmas so they have the proportions of a normal female body.
But what I can do is parent.
Parenting remains the most powerful force in a child’s life. More powerful than peers. More powerful than the media.
My parenting will shape her for the rest of her life … in bad ways as well as good ones.
So here are the 3 strategies I’m using, however imperfectly, to nurture strength, confidence, and a body positive attitude in my child.
1. See her in action.
I once knew a single father who had just one strategy to raise a self-confident daughter. He told her she was beautiful. Over and over again.
But it didn’t really work.
Those approving comments came at awkward times. When she was eating dinner or reading a book. When she was already half-ignoring him. I could see his well-intentioned words roll off her back. “Whatever, Dad.”
Researchers have discovered that children respond best when parents praise effort, actions, or character—not fixed traits like appearance. Terri Coles expresses it perfectly:
Their self-worth should be tied to something they actually have control over.” 
Comments such as, “I like the way you put that outfit together,” or, “I appreciate how polite you are around your grandparents,” or, “I’m amazed at the detail you put into this drawing,” shows kids that their actions do matter.
There are more important things than how they look. Like how hard they try, the passion they feel, and the way they treat others.
For my 6-year-old daughter, what matters most is being strong and fast. I’ve never heard her talk about anyone being pretty, but I often hear her boasting about how fast she is. She creates obstacle courses in the living room and invites me to watch her as she dashes through them.
So I do. I watch. And I admire.
She will gain her sense of beauty not from how she looks, but what she can do. She won’t have to seek attention elsewhere, when she’s got all the attention I can give her. My admiring gaze shows her she is worthy of being seen.
If we fail to be fully present with our daughters, they will look for men to see them.
2. Teach her about the miracle of her body.
I love talking about the body.
About the way wounds heal by themselves. About the way our bodies manage to convert the food we chew and swallow into energy for trillions of cells. About the structure of the brain and the way joints work.
Luckily, my daughter is a science enthusiast. She loves asking body-related questions.
So, while she’s resting from a hard race through her obstacle course, I teach her the names of her muscles. I show her where to find her shin and the difference between her palms and her soles.
I emphasize that our bodies deserve the best treatment possible. That they perform better when we take care of them. We show our bodies appreciation by giving them good food, lots of water, and plenty of rest. Just like a puppy, really. Our bodies get stronger and faster when we love them.
3. Delight in feminine beauty rituals together.
Having a daughter has its own particular joy. Here is someone you can teach everything you know about being a woman.
My daughter has given me so many opportunities to examine my own understanding of femininity. What does it mean to be a girl instead of a boy?
For us, one of those differences is beauty rituals. Girls get to paint their nails, braid their hair, and wear beautiful dresses. Girls get to wear sparkles on their eyes and in their hair. Girls get to wear jewelry from head to toe.
I love those moments when we’re standing at the bathroom mirror together, my daughter carefully applying lip balm while I apply red lipstick. We choose the outfits we want to wear together. She helps me accessorize while picking out her own necklace and bracelets.
These moments teach her, I hope, that being a girl is delightful and fun. It’s not about whether her reflection in the mirror is pleasing to someone else. It’s about whether it’s pleasing to her. It’s about playfully expressing the joy of being female.
Then, when we go out into the world and a stranger admires her dress, she doesn’t hear someone telling her she’s pretty. She hears someone admiring her choices. She picked that dress out. She put it on herself. She chose how she wanted to look in the world, and she owns it.
May she keep on owning it!
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