Do you remember the first time you realized that something was wrong with the way you look?
I remember. I was in 5th grade. I’d just gotten glasses. My classmates called me four-eyes.
As I became more self-conscious about my appearance, I began to wonder what else was wrong with me. It would take me decades before I managed to shake those body image issues.
Girls today are lucky to sail through adolescence with body image intact. As parents, teachers, mentors, and role models, it’s our job to do everything within our power to help girls develop a positive body image.
That’s why I wanted to talk to body confidence coach Rebekah Buege.
I first discovered Rebekah through her blog post “My daughter thinks she’s ugly, what do I tell her?”
Rebekah gets it. She works with adult women who still don’t feel beautiful, and she knows what it’s like to bear the burden of hating your body for your entire life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our daughters didn’t have to go through that?
In this week’s YBTV interview, Rebekah discusses the origin of body image issues, how to deal with body shaming, and why telling your daughter she’s beautiful is not enough.
We are so much more than how we look, she reminds us. We were made for a greater purpose than looking pretty.
What You’ll Learn
You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’.”
– Erin McKean
Why do girls hate the way they look?
And why do they continue to hate how they look long after they’ve grown into beautiful women?
“97% of women have a negative thought about their body every day,” says Rebekah Buege.
“We trick ourselves into thinking that [body confidence] should be easy, but if it were easy 97% of women would not struggle with that.”
How We Learn Body Image
Sometimes it seems that we’re born hating our bodies. It’s hard to remember a time when we liked what we saw in the mirror.
But Rebekah reminds us that body image is learned.
No one is born thinking that their nose is wrong. No one is born thinking that they should have been blonde—no one! So it always comes from a thought or belief that someone else placed in your mind, and over time you can work through that.”
Understanding the truth of who you are—and the ways that truth has been corrupted by the messages you’ve absorbed from the media, society, and peers—is central to Rebekah’s body confidence coaching.
“Everything when it comes to women is focused on our appearance,” she says.
“It’s how we talk about other women. It’s how we see other women portrayed in the media. No matter if that’s social media or a magazine or a black-and-white TV show, we’re always shown women in a certain way.”
And if we personally don’t match that body image ideal, we try to change ourselves to match that ideal. We don’t question the ideal itself.
Worse yet, the goalposts keep changing.
The ideal woman’s body of today does not look like the ideal body of our mothers’ generation. Trends come and go, and “yet we’re always reminded that our appearance is the most important thing when it comes to us being a woman.”
You are More Than Your Looks
That’s the biggest lie perpetuated by culture and the media:
The notion that a woman can be reduced to how she looks.
No matter what a woman says or does, her appearance is always part of the equation. Her weight, her outfit, and her attractiveness (or lack thereof) hijack the conversation.
We start to see women as one-dimensional, and that dimension is what you look like.”
Rebekah seeks to challenge that.
“Beauty, while it can be idolized in our culture, does not define you as the most important part about who you are. It’s one factor of many things that makes you a woman and that makes you YOU.”
How to Help Girls Develop a Positive Body Image
That insight is central to helping girls develop a healthy body image.
“We can’t protect [our children] from everything,” Rebekah says, “but what we can do is equip them with a foundation of truth about who they are, what makes them valuable, and also how easy it is in this digital culture to fake it.”
Rebekah encourages parents to use the media as a springboard for talking to their children about body image.
If a TV show focuses on women’s bodies to the exclusion of everything else, what else should we know about those women? What are their hopes, dreams, interests, and everything else that makes them who they are?
Children don’t just learn from what we teach them. They learn from how we act.
“As parents, the way you talk about your body and other people’s bodies is how your kids are going to do it,” she says. If we want our kids to stop judging people by their weight, for example, we have to model it.
No matter how hard we work to equip our children with a healthy body image, no matter how well we protect them from unhealthy portrayals of women’s bodies in the media, we still have to send our children out into the real world.
Other kids will make nasty comments about their appearance. Trolls will attack them on social media.
What do you do when your child comes home crying because someone has said something mean?
Rebekah suggests asking your child to think of the last time she said something mean to another person and how she was feeling in that moment.
The truth is, any time we are being critical or negative and trying to tear someone else down, it’s because we don’t feel good enough. We are struggling with something, and we’re trying to project that onto someone else.”
She encourages kids to change their perspective.
Instead of taking the comment personally, focus on what it says about the person saying it.
“While it hurts—of course it hurts—their opinion of you does not define you.”
Body Confidence Coaching
Even with the best of intentions, many girls will grow up into women who still aren’t happy with their bodies.
That’s where Rebekah’s body confidence coaching comes in.
She helps her clients “rewire [their] neural pathways to go towards confidence rather than insecurity.
It takes time, and it takes practice. But you can get to the point where you stop thinking about your body obsessively. Your body becomes part of you but no longer defines who you are.
Changing ourselves is just the beginning. Ultimately, the best way to create a world where our daughters can grow up free from body shame is to change culture.
That’s where Rebekah comes in.
Her first book, Social Currency, examines how a culture obsessed with perfection uses social currencies such as beauty, power, and status as the ultimate measure of a woman’s worth. It doesn’t have to be that way. Join the movement by pre-ordering it here.
You were created on purpose for a purpose…. And I promise you, it is not just to look beautiful, not just to remain thin or to become thin. It is much bigger than that.”
Jump to Topics of Interest
2:00 Why do so many girls hate how they look?
4:01 Why don’t girls believe us when we say they’re beautiful?
6:50 How can we protect our children from damaging media messages?
9:27 What do you say to your child when she’s just been trolled?
11:37 How to use harmful media messages as a springboard for dicussion
14:21 When your child witnesses someone bullied for their weight
16:56 How to get to the point where you don’t think negatively about your body
20:06 You were created on purpose for a purpose
Rebekah Buege is a body confidence coach and host of the weekly podcast, Confidently She. She’s been featured in Bustle, Elite Daily, The Everygirl, Darling Magazine, and more. Find out how you can work with Rebekah.