Mothers are Teachers. Did you realize that? The first
thing you teach your child is to smile, then to speak,
to walk, to use the toilet. I bet you are the one who
taught your child the alphabet. You never stop teaching
them. As they grow you teach them to drive. You are a
lifelong teacher to your children. Most moms don’t
sit down with a lesson plan about what they are going
to teach their children. Some of you may have never thought
about yourself as a teacher until you started reading
this article. Those are just the things you do as a mom;
it comes with the job.
In the looks-obsessed world we live in,
we need to recognize that a big part of our job as moms
is to teach our children to like how they look. It is a
lifelong journey that begins with how a mom focuses on
her own looks. The teaching needs to begin well before
adolescence when the world of looks will become a teen’s number one struggle. Learn
what you can do for your child to help them like their
looks and have a strong foundation to face adolescence.
Because of my work experience as a counselor, I have
been aware of this issue and ended up responding to it
as a parent out of my personal concern for my daughter.
I raised my children in North Dallas, which is a breeding
ground for eating disorders. Each day in my job as a
counselor I was meeting beautiful, wonderful young women
who were trapped in behaviors that were destroying their
lives. I began to get concerned about the messages my
own daughter was susceptible to, even though she was
still a preschooler. I could see the influence the culture
could have over her. In fact, my daughter, Rachel, was
only five years old when someone told her she was fat!
I was appalled! I wanted to scream at the eight year
old girl who made the comment, but I didn’t because
I knew where it was coming from. I could see that although
neither girl was fat that the neighbor had most likely
been told she was fat, and she was just spreading the
wrong facts as she was processing them. I couldn’t
have as much influence over that neighbor girl, but instinctively
I knew that I needed to help vaccinate Rachel from the
body-obsessed world in which she was growing up. Interestingly,
I asked Rachel if she remembered the comment and it never
became a part of her consciousness. I’m sure it
would have made an impact if I had screamed at the eight
year old. What I did was affirm both girls and tell them
they were both growing exactly as God designed them.
I did purposely talk to Rachel about eating disorders
and how damaging they were to the lives of the young
girls I worked with. We had conversations occasionally,
but more importantly, I showed Rachel what healthy body
image involves by how I cared for my body and how I responded
to her. Sometimes I had to protect her from comments
made by family members. I was determined to protect her
self-esteem. My calculations were correct and many of
her friends dealt with body image and eating disorders
to different degrees, but thankfully she never became
a victim to the problem.
I asked Rachel what if anything I had done to help her
like herself so I could share this with other mothers.
Her response was; “It’s not that I think
I’m all that great, it’s just that I don’t
care.” Inside I rejoiced. That was my hope. I
didn’t want to raise a daughter who didn’t
learn and grow from her body-flaws, but I did want to
raise a daughter who knew there was so much to her worth
and value than how she looks.
Now I am encouraging you as a mom to stop and really
think about this problem and how it affects your children.
I want to encourage you to do what I did and take a personal
and purposeful interest in giving your children wisdom
about their bodies and how they are made from their preschool
years and beyond. I want to share with you some of what
I did in hopes that it will help you inoculate your children
from the woeful realities of negative body image.
WHAT TO TEACH AT EACH STAGE OF LIFE:
I didn’t start out talking to Rachel about eating
disorders in the preschool years. Other than disagreeing
and interceding in the conversation on that one comment
made to her when she was five, I left body image out
of our consciousness. If your preschooler is asking questions
about being fat, etc, then you need to address their
questions with the truth. I do want to encourage you
to consider where the question is coming from. Most preschoolers
are mainly influenced by their home environment. One
woman told me that she decided to pick up my book after
an experience she had in the dressing room with her then
four year old daughter. Her daughter was trying on a
dress, looked in the mirror and said, “I look fat
in this.” The mom was shocked, and also forced
to face the reality that the only place her daughter
was hearing such a thing was from her! The work she did
on her own body image was the best teaching she did for
her preschooler. She learned to like herself and that
lesson was passed down through the rest of the years
they had at home. Use the preschool years to consider
your own body image and recognize that you are modeling
body image to her whether you plan it or not.
Protect your preschoolers from sexualized toys and television.
Children want to please and they receive the message
that they will be loved by how sexy they are. This message
is loud and clear in their world if you do not take certain
precautions in their lives. Use the preschool years to
teach them to be in awe of the way God heals their boo-boos,
and created them to run, skip and jump. When I am teaching
on healthy body image I tell people that I want them
to get to get in touch with “that five year old
you.” A five year old will run through a room
naked if it is just after their bath and they want something
across the room. They are not thinking that their body
will turn others on or that they could be judged by how
they look. They are simply free to be in their bodies
and free to explore the world through the boundaries
of what their bodies enable them to do. The sad reality
is that I’m afraid our most recent
generations will not be able to relate to that statement
of remembering the five year old you. Without the intervention,
love and protection of wise and caring parents, their
body image assault will begin in the preschool years.
The school age years are important for same-sex peer
interaction. Children are learning how to make and
maintain friendships outside of the family. There is
a bit of individuation going on here. You need to continue
monitoring of their television and media influences
to the degree that you are able, but these are the
years to begin addressing and becoming sensitive to
the ways the peers talk about their bodies. During
these years you teach them how they are unique, special
and different from their peers. You want to get them
ready for the dramatic ways their bodies will change
from childlike to adult-like. Prepare them by explaining
that it is normal for pre-puberty girls to gain extra
weight in preparation for menstruation. Teach them
how to feed and care for their bodies by offering quality,
well-balanced meals from your own dinner table as often
Middle School Years
These are the years that body image issues will be most
apparent in your relationship with your child. If they
never have previously, they will begin to scrutinize
and consider what kind of body flaws they have. They
may even create some body flaws just to fit in with their
peers. You do not feel that you have much influence over
them now, but you really do. Enable them to spend time
with peers, but always with a watchful eye, and pay attention
to what is going on in their relationships. What are
they learning to believe about themselves from their
peers and how close is this to the truth of who they
are. When they point out their body flaws, teach them
to accept the imperfections they see by being balanced
in how to respond to them. If your child has a medical
condition of acne, discuss this with your doctor, but
don’t become a partner with them in overreacting
to body flaws. When you spend so much time and money
trying to fix the things they see wrong with them, you
are communicating that this is really a bad thing that
is not what they need to hear from their parent. Don’t
overreact to their complaints but put them in perspective
for them. They need their mom to be the voice of reason
and not exaggerate normal adolescent body growth and
High School Years
I really want to encourage you to be a safe haven for
your child, making it your top priority to show them
that you love them just for who they are during these
years. Everywhere they go, in every interaction they
have, they are targeted with body-hate. It’s
not the intention of the media to create teenagers
with low self-esteem, but since their ads are created
with teens in mind they have to point out everything
that is wrong with them in order to get them to purchase
Don’t join the chorus of spreading
the emphasis on teen beauty. Love your teen. Don’t
take responsibility if your teen is overweight, or
even if they have an acne problem. Be a welcome coach
if they come to you for help on their body flaws. If
they don’t ask for your
help, don’t give it. If they do want your help,
get the balanced help they need. If it is weight, find
a dietician who can teach them how to eat and exercise
better. Don’t lead them to crazy fad diets.
The High School and College Years are very important
years in your child’s life. You need to be there
for them, praying for them as they live in this whirlpool
of body conflict. These are years when physical attractiveness
is paramount on their minds. Teach them to trust that
God’s plan for their bodies will attract the
right spouse and help them determine what is right
for their career.
General Message that you need to be giving your children
at every stage of their lives
- You want them to know
that they are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm
139:14). Proverbs 18:21 says that life and death are
in the power of the tongue. Nowhere is this more true
than in the words that are spoken about a body. I have
talked to many parents who would never have dreamed
one comment would pack so much power and lead to the
place where they are paying $30,000.00 to help their
daughter who has an eating disorder. Be aware of the
words you speak to your child and even the names that
you call them in fun. Also, be aware of the words you
speak about your own body.
- As your children grow you
need to teach them that God knows their body flaws.
A lot of North Dallas teenagers are spending hundreds
of dollars on normal acne! It’s
interesting to stop and ponder what God could have
been thinking when He gave pimples to humans at the
same time they are most obsessed with their looks.
Could God be wanting to show them that life can go
on even if you have an outbreak? Teenagers are naturally
obsessed with how they look—they don’t
need their parents to be just as worried! You need
to help them think like George MacDonald writes: “I
would rather be what God chose to make me than the
most glorious creature that I could think of; for to
have been thought about, born in God’s thought,
and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and
most precious thing in all thinking.”
- You also
need to teach your children that their bodies are the
temple of God. God chooses to dwell in their bodies;
that in itself makes their bodies very special. God
see their body as a place to evaluate their worth.
Rather, God gave them a body to experience 80 or so
years on this earth learning to love and serve Him.
Help them get God’s perspective of their bodies.
boys not to talk negatively about girls’ bodies
Guys need to be aware that if they do not over focus
on what a girl looks like they are setting themselves
up for a lifetime of very gratifying and satisfying
sexual experiences. God designed us to develop an irrational
attraction to the opposite sex. But when guys or girls
are over exposed to sexual imagery (such as pornography)
it affects their sexual development negatively and
can lead to sexual addictions that result in unsatisfying
sex and dangerous or life threatening sex. Guys who
do not develop unrealistic expectations of what a woman’s
body should look like are much freer to actually enjoy
the satisfaction that sexual intimacy and relationship
were created to give.
Your job as a teacher in your role as a mom is so
important. I want to encourage you to take it seriously
and be confident that you indeed can make a difference
in your children’s lives. They need your wise
and balanced perspective in this culture more than
Here’s an exercise that I use in Workshops
and Teachings on Body Image. Ask your child to sit
by you and hold their hands, look into their eyes and
ask them to repeat back to you each of these statements
as you speak them in a loving and sure tone:
You Are Beautiful!
Your body is the temple of God.
You were wonderfully made.
You were knit together by God Himself.
Nothing about your body is unknown by God.
God saw your body before you were even born.
God knows the number of days you will live in your body.
You are created in the image of God.
God knows the very number of hairs on your head.
Your true beauty comes from your inner self.
You can exalt Christ in your body.
God knows everything your body needs.
Because of what Christ did with His body, you are without
You are forgiven.
You are accepted.
There is no condemnation toward you.
You are Beautiful!
(2 Corinthians 6:16, Psalm 139:13-16, Gen. 1:27, Luke
12:7, Phil. 1:20, Matthew 6:25-33, 1 John 1:9, Romans