A recent article in the Huffington Post regarding how to talk to your daughter about her body has been making the rounds on the Internet this month. What advice does the author give? Don't. "Don't talk to your daughter about her body except to teach her how it works," the article says. "Don't say anything if she's lost weight. Don't say anything if she's gained weight. If you think your daughter's body looks amazing, don't say that. Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body."
Emily T. Wierenga, writing on her blog today, disagrees. "If you pretend that your daughter's body doesn't exist, she'll feel like she doesn't exist," she says. "If we don't acknowledge and affirm our children's physical appearance, they will turn to the world for answers about how they look. And the world is heartless."
Wierenga shares her own story of how her parents refused to compliment her on her appearance as a young girl and taught her that focusing on anything besides inner beauty was vanity and a sin. Wierenga battled low self-esteem and became anorexic at the age of 9 because, in her own words, she was so starved for attention.
"But the Bible doesn't tell us not to love ourselves," she says. "The Bible says we need to love ourselves in order to love our neighbor. We need to talk to our children about their bodies. But before we do, we need to learn to treat our own bodies with the kindness that they deserve. We need to learn to see our skin as cherished, designed by a divine creator who doesn't make mistakes."
Your daughter "needs you to say that she is gorgeous," Wierenga goes on. "I agree that it is important to stress our children's inner strength, their character and integrity, their morality and their spiritual fortitude. All of these things are crucial, but we are not just our soul. We are our face and our hands and our eyes and our feet. We are our bodies. Let's not ignore, in an attempt to cover up or counter-act. Our children are being forced to face, head-on, the effects of a superficial society and we need to gird their self-esteem not by ignoring, but encouraging. And when she hears you praising her, when she knows that both her appearance and her character are intentional and designed by a Creator who loved her enough to send his Son to die for her, she will know that she can stand up to the monsters outside her door."
In an article on Crosswalk.com, Jim Liebelt reports that low self-esteem is at crisis levels for girls. According to a study by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, seven in 10 girls feel they do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships. An alarming number of girls turn to destructive action when feeling insecure, and girls with low self-esteem are three times more likely to participate in dangerous behavior, such as injuring themselves on purpose or starving themselves. Girls are "craving better communication with adult figures as they struggle with challenges in their lives," Liebelt writes. "The top wish among girls is for their parents to communicate better with them, including more frequent and more open conversations, as well as discussions about what is happening in her life." And it's not just a conversation a mother can have with her daughter -- as Ken Canfield writes in another Crosswalk.com article titled "What Daughters Need From Dads," it's also incredibly important for fathers to affirm their girls. Dads "have so much potential power to influence [their daughters'] self-esteem, their independence, and their healthy body image," Canfield says.
The key to reversing the trend of low self-esteem among girls "has to do with parents and other adult role-models providing consistent communication, support and encouragement to the girls in their lives," Liebelt concludes. After hearing stories like Wierenga's and reading reports on the destructive effects of insecurity and low self-esteem, how can we best approach the topic with our daughters or other young girls in our lives?
Anna Kuta is the editor of ReligionToday.com.