When I was on Oprah, we discussed how important it is for parents to be good role models for their children. Every time a mother expresses dissatisfaction with her weight, wrinkles, cellulite, breasts, etc., her daughters begin to scrutinize their own little bodies harshly. "Do as I say, not as I do," doesn't cut it with kids. You have to show them how to be an empowered person by living as one. But nowadays, the opposite is happening. Some moms purposely pass their own insecurities onto their daughters by helping their girls find and fix perceived imperfections, perhaps seeing it as a reflection on themselves.
As women flock to get all kinds of procedures to improve their appearance, many take their daughters to get fixed too. Girls get boob jobs for their sixteenth birthday, or younger; Botox before they're old enough to vote. Even preteen girls get small fixes with their mom's blessing. Instead of demonstrating self-acceptance, these moms teach their daughters to be insecure about their appearance. Usually Mom's own insecurity instigates the fixes.
As I waited to cross a street today, I heard an argument between a woman and her daughter, who was no more than eleven years old. They were on their way to get the girl's eyebrows shaped and the girl was crying. She heard that it hurt and didn't know why she needed it. Mom rubbed the child's eyebrows as she explained what parts would be thinned to make her look better and added, "We're doing this because you wanted it." The light changed as I fiddled in my bag to stay and hear how it played out.
This little girl looked Mom earnestly in her eyes and said, "No, I never wanted it. You did." As Mom defended herself, the girl added, "You always tell me what I want. But I don't want it just because you say I do." Mom got quiet for a minute, then said firmly, "I know you'll be happy with the results so you're getting your eyebrows done." As they walked off, the girl still crying for a reprieve, I thought about how this adds to the high rate of young people with poor self-images. These kinds of mothers don't teach their daughters to love themselves as they are.
It's hard enough to be young with a changing body and have to grow up in an atmosphere where everyone compares themselves to others. TV and in movies portray standards that make it tough to be happy with yourself. But if self-acceptance isn't reinforced at home, it's even harder for a girl to grow up confident in her own skin. When a mother tries to fix her daughter because of her own insecurities, it harms the girl's self-esteem and sets her up to be an insecure woman. After all, if your mom doesn't think you're good enough the way you are, why would anyone else?
I had a neighbor I'll call Louise, who had two young daughters and literally badgered them from age five not to get fat. They were just a tad chubby, like many girls, but she acted like they were obese. If they were at a birthday party, she yelled if one tried to eat a piece of cake like the other children did: "Put that down or you'll get fat!" One day Louise shared that one tried to open the car door and jump out on the highway, saying she didn't want to live anymore because she hated living on a diet. Louise was puzzled. "I don't want her to be fat for her own good. Why doesn't she appreciate that?"
I gently explained that at thirteen she shouldn't have so much pressure. Louise dismissed that, thinking only about her own insecurity with weight, which taught her little girls they needed to be neurotic about their weight too in order to be acceptable. Yet there's little room for love when you're always picking on your child to not get fat. Every time you try to fix your daughter's appearance, you teach them they're not good enough the way they are.
It's imperative to love your daughters in their own imperfect skin so they can learn to love themselves that way. If you're insecure about yourself, don't put that on your child! Even if they ask for them, make them wait until they're adults to get nips, tucks and injections. Instead, teach them healthy eating habits and good self-care. Do exercise together. Children need to be told that they're loved and appreciated as they are, not pushed to get fixed. Show them how to love themselves by making an effort to love yourself. Self-acceptance is one of the best gifts that parents can pass down to their children. That helps build confidence for the future.
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