05/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Don't Hesitate to Tell Your Daughter She's Beautiful

Last month while leading a discussion on raising teens in a body-conscious world, I came away reminded of how confused parents have become. With the media's overemphasis on appearance at any cost, parents are challenged to help their kids question the culture's over emphasis on external appearance while essentially ignoring the messaging for one's internal self.

The following question posed as a statement, helped me realize just how confused today's parents are: "We shouldn't be telling our daughters that they are beautiful because that would only feed in to reinforcing the importance she holds about her looks." Stunned at what I was hearing from well educated, thoughtful, feminist minded mothers, I burst forth with a rant that sounded something like the following: "Of course we need to tell our daughters that they are beautiful. Let me assure you that your daughters are exposed to negative messaging all day long, every day of every week, picking them apart and diminishing their sense of self. They don't need to hear any more negative messaging at home. They absolutely do need to hear your voices expressing positive messages about how beautiful and adorable they are. Yes, they need to hear that their beauty is not all surface beauty, but they also need to hear that you see them as pretty, cute, hip, gorgeous - you name it. I promise you that it won't go to their head and inflate their sense of being. There's plenty in their world offsetting that as a possibility."

How have we gotten to the point where mother's, well-read in childrearing and self-esteem building, are reluctant to join their daughters when they say "Mommy, don't I look beautiful?" When a young girl or teen asks this question, they are really asking "am I beautiful enough to be loved by you?" The answer from any mother or father needs to be yes.

Many mom's and dad's are, themselves, "under the influence," swayed by the unrealistic body images promoted in the media. Because of this phenomenon they may convey disapproval to their daughters when they don't comply with looking "thin." Real bodies aren't all thin. In fact most of us aren't "thin." That doesn't mean that we are "fat." But in today's world, people are being trained to think in all-or-nothing terms - its black or white- fat or thin. Healthy girl development (just like healthy boy development) has us going through many awkward growth spurts. What our daughters need is to feel that they are beautiful to their parents and loved as they are. They don't believe that anywhere else in their world, let them at least have that in the safety of their own homes.