Developing Girls’ Positive Self-Image

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I am excited that I get to work with The Girls Empowerment Network (GENAustin) through Sverve to talk about developing girls’ positive self-image!

The Girls Empowerment Network surveyed 2,000+ U.S. adults to find out what are the biggest threats to girls’ positive self-image, what is the biggest asset to a positive self-image, and which women in the public eye are the best role models for girls. Here’s the infographic about the results of that study (click to see footnotes/original source):

Girls Empowerment Network Infographic: Girls need positive role models to develop positive self-image. After looking at the data and information they collected, the one thing that comes to my mind is that looking at numbers and statistics is great, but what is the solution? How are we, how am I, building up the self-esteem of young girls? What can I do to make sure my daughters grow up loving themselves and their bodies?

My Teenage Self-Esteem

When I was a teenager, I didn’t always love my body. I was always one of the tallest in my class, and definitely one of the tallest females (I’m 5’9″). I also have large feet (size 11 shoes), a big forehead, poofy hair, crooked, spaced, chipped teeth, and a pointy, unique nose.  I was tall and skinny with small boobs.  Once I came to realize that pubity had settled and this was the body I was going to have, I slowly came to terms with it. While I wasn’t often told I was beautiful, gorgeous, or pretty, I thought I was. And that made all the difference. Sure I didn’t look like so-and-so or have her curves, but I liked my body.  I mean I had some great features too!: a great big smile, beautiful eyes, long eye lashes, thick wavy hair, and I was tall and skinny (I like to see these more as a plus for sure). As I continued to grow older, I felt more confident and comfortable in my body as I learned how to dress it modestly, appropriately, and cutely.

I am fortunate that I didn’t have bullies (unless you count my brothers). While never really in the “popular” crowd, I wasn’t ever a reject either. I floated gloriously in the middle, sporting a wide array of friends and acquaintances. While I was different from others, what with my enormous family (I’m the youngest of nine children), poor upbringing, and Mormon religion, I was accepted for who I was. I didn’t ever feel the need to “conform” or to lie to have friends. I was myself. I had a relatively great self-esteem and did very well in school and other activities. I do fully believe that having great, true friends made all the difference in that. There were people, outside my home, who loved me for me. Who accepted my weirdness, my looks, my talents, my everything, and wanted to spend lots of quality time with me as a friend.  I am forever grateful for wonderful friendships growing up and for my sister who was always my best friend.  Because, without them my self-esteem could have been much less assured due to my poor relationship with my parents.

I don’t often write about my parents, in particular my mother, because it often brings up difficult emotions. I love my mother and my father, but growing up they (particularly my mother) certainly affected my self-esteem in a negative way by not caring about me, by being late to everything, by forgetting about me, by not wanting to come to my concerts and events, by not asking me about my day or who my friends were. My mother was uninvolved in my life and we didn’t have much of a real relationship.  I hope and pray that I never do those things to my own daughters. I never want them to feel unloved or uncared about. I will be at every concert and every event (circumstances pending) and be there on time and take the whole family and support them. I’ll care about their days and their friends and what’s going on in their lives. I’ll talk to them, spend quality time with them, and have a real relationship with my daughters.

One of the best things my mother did though was make sure I went to church every Sunday. One of the things I feel this study fails to take into account it the value of religion. The more I took my religious studies and training seriously in high school, the more I loved myself, the more I knew that if everyone else sucked and weren’t there for me, I still had God. I still had someone who loved me, cared about me, and was always, always there, and could always comfort, listen, and help. I know that this knowledge helped me love my body (my body is a temple, a gift from God), my self, and others. This knowledge helped me handle difficult circumstances with friends, peers, and family members.

Plus, it was at church that I found so many wonderful and awesome role models!  I so greatly looked up to those who taught my Sunday school lessons, who led our weekly activities, who taught early morning Seminary, who helped me understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, love the scriptures, and know who I am. I loved them. I called and talked to and trusted my youth leaders. They were such wonderful examples to me. I am forever thankful to them for helping me grow into the person I am.

Social Media and Mass Media

Unfortunately, one of the alarming things about this survey is the negative influence of social media and mass media. And my poor daughters will be exposed, more than I can probably imagine, when they are teenagers to the onslaught on images and social media interactions. While I did participate in SM during my teenage years (I graduated high school a mere 7 years ago), having my own MySpace page, MSN Instant Messenger, and right before college my own Facebook page (yeah, I joined back in 2006 when you had to have a college email address to join), I was not a very heavy user, nor did I have a cell phone, though many of my friends did and I wanted one. But, I was too poor for a cell phone, despite having a part-time job all throughout high school and participating in numerous activities.  I didn’t get a cell phone until college (everyone had out-of-state numbers so I couldn’t call them with the dorm phone), when I paid the $45 bill myself, and still didn’t have texting. To this day I rarely text or use a cell phone.

And I’m totally okay with my kids being squares and not having cell phones, like ever.  Social media will only continue to grow in scope and influence, and I don’t want my daughters to focus so much attention on building and maintaining relationships through online communications.  Of course, as I write this, it seems hypocritical, as much of my social interactions seem to be online, especially as I am a blogger. But, I think it’s about balance. I still see friends every week at playgroup, play dates, book clubs, art nights, and game nights. So, my daughters will probably have a cell phone some day too, but it’ll come with limitations.

But, the hard one is how do I combat the media portrayals of women? The images of women are unrealistic and very often immoral.  Self-esteem cannot be built up by these images. These images say we can’t be happy unless we have whatever they are selling or doing, that we won’t get the guy, land the job, or be popular.  The portrayals of women in the media are so misleading about what it is to be a woman and to be happy. Happiness is a veneer in these advertisements and movies: if they look put together, than their life must be put together too. But, that’s not real at all and a complete lie.

Being beautiful on the outside is not going to make you love yourself on the inside. And looking “hot” or “sexy” may make you feel wanted and desired, but generally not by men who worth a darn.  Sex and beauty are not the climax of our lives, despite what TV shows, movies, and advertisement would lead us to believe. They are a small part of a complete life, not the point of life itself.  Consuming too much media gives girls a distorted sense of what is valued.  According to media, hotness, beauty, physical strength, a small waist, big boobs, and sex are essential to life and if you don’t have them people will make fun of you and your life will be unhappy.  Seriously! Have you watched a TV show lately? It’s adult bullying at its finest – making fun of those who are fat, ugly, lazy, or stupid, in favor of those who are bright, beautiful, and getting laid.

So NO! We don’t have cable or basic channels hooked up in our house. My husband and I watch our handful of TV shows after our children are asleep, and we don’t buy or flip through magazines. TV is not real, but my children are too young to know that.  The values being portrayed are NOT the values I want my children to instill within them. I have a series on this blog about how we are instilling righteous and good values in our children because I want my daughters to develop into whole, complete, self-confident women. And that means limiting the world’s ideals of how those are developed and fostered.

How to develop girls' positive self-image and self-esteem.  #genaustin #wearegirlsconference #rolemodelrallyPraising our Daughters

I don’t know what it is about little girls, but it is extremely common for most people to praise and compliment them about their looks – I love your pigtails! What a beautiful dress! What a pretty bow!

I’m not sure why this is, but from a young age we are setting the precedent that our daughters must be “pretty.” My own daughters are no exception to this phenomenon. They want to be princesses, wear frilly skirts, tutus, be ballerinas or fairies, and be told they are beautiful.

And my husband and I oblige. We often tell our daughters they are beautiful, but we tell them THEY are beautiful, and not their clothes or their jewelry or shoes. We sometimes specifically tell them that they are beautiful no matter what they are wearing, which is absolutely true, especially since I let them dress themselves most days: they can be wearing a striped shirt, leopard-print pants and snow boots. I tell them they are beautiful and I try to downplay the importance of what they choose to wear each day.  Clothes are not that important, nor should they be.

Instead, my husband and I try to praise our daughters for the things they do and for the persons they are. We also compliment them on doing a “hard” task, often asking if it was actually easy once completed, to which they usually smile and say it was!

Here are ways we we are developing girls’ positive self-image:

  • Tell them we love them every single day, many, many times.
  • Give them lots and lots of hugs and kisses and snuggles and tickles.
  • Tell them how beautiful and smart and talented and hard-working they are.
  • Downplay the importance of things. We don’t have a lot of toys or games.
  • Avoid name calling and using words like dumb, stupid, moron, idiot, lazy, fat, dumb, slow, etc.
  • Buy them bargain clothes and not the cutest, more stylish clothes (though I still think they have better clothes than me).
  • Praise them for the good choices they make.
  • Take them to church and read them scriptures –  instill faith in them.
  • Expect them to do their part. Expectations build self-worth.
  • Limit exposure to commercials and advertisements.
  • Don’t let them play on the computer, especially unsupervised.
  • Limit movie and TV time so they have more time for pretend/imaginative play.
  • Talk about what we love about them.
  • Play and run and interact with them.
  • Take them fun places.
  • Value their opinions.
  • Listen to them.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Teach right and wrong.

What did you find most surprising about this study? What are you going to do to help develop girls’ positive self-image?

More Posts about Instilling Values in Kids:

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  1. says

    As the mother of three girls, I think this is VERY important. My daughters are all under five still, so this is all still in the future, but I want to start setting up the groundwork now for them to have a positive self-image later. I agree with you that parents and religion are very important. I grew up okay with my body (I’m tall like you but have a decent figure), though I never felt I was “pretty” (even though both my dad and my husband say I am). My girls want to be pretty and often dress up, and I think about how to encourage them to be happy with who they are and to know that God made them this way and loves them very much. THanks for sharing!

  2. says

    This is a great post. I had a lot of body issues as a teenager and now as an elementary school teacher I’m even seeing kids in 4th and 5th grades hate their bodies and it makes me so sad! Great tips for increased a positive image.

    • says

      That’s so sad that in 4th and 5th grade kids are hating their bodies! They aren’t even at the truly awkward middle school years yet. It’s scary how much emphasis is placed on our bodies so early.

  3. says

    Such an important issue! Thanks for sharing. It sounds like we had some a similar relationship with our moms. And I agree with the cell phone thing. I think I am bringing back the home phone, and internet time will be limited and monitored!

  4. says

    This post is so close to my heart. It is what me and my husband think about in how we want to raise our children. Looking at all of your suggestions on how to develop positive self images, I think it is so important and we do this already with our son. It saddens me because I hear some who consider themselves to be black complain about the way that black women are portrayed in the media, but all I can think about is the fact that these women willingly signed contracts and partook in these types of opportunities. For many, it is because they didn’t have parents doing what is in your list to create a positive self image. For me, I think the media is horrible and I won’t be allowing my kids to watch TV. We will be doing videos that me and hubby have already seen and doing pretty much everything you’ve stated on the list. I don’t trust an avenue (the media) that will one minute display people in a horrible sinful light and then another day speak about being positive, etc. I’m convinced that they have no good intentions for our children at all.

    Thank you so much for sharing with us on Countdown in Style. Don’t forget to come back on Friday to see if you’ve been featured! xoxo

    • says

      Thanks so much for your comment Brittnei! I’m glad you think I had some good suggestions! I take this raising kids things pretty seriously, and so I try to parent intentionally. 🙂 I can you do too!

  5. says

    Thank you for sharing this! My children are only 3.5 and 2, but even cartoons that they watch give the message that it helps to be pretty. I had to point out to my daughter last week that the thing that is so great about Princess Sophia is not that she has a great purple dress, but that she is a great person who cares about people, and helps out, always trying to do the right thing. Her clothes are just clothes.

  6. says

    I loved this! As a woman who struggles with her self image everyday, I do not want to pass on my self-loathing onto my future children. Thank you for giving some very practical ways to instill a positive self-image in young girls! <3

  7. says

    Your writing is beautiful and thoughtful. I learned so much about you in just this one post. Your children are beautiful. I don’t know them on the inside, but they are definitely adorable, nonetheless. I don’t think you have to worry about external influences. One of the things I think you might of missed, is that 74% of the girls do NOT have a close relationship with their parents. In this world of chasing bigger, better, more, many children go unloved. My daughters are younger 2 and a newborn. I doubt the 2 year old will have a problem with self-esteem. She knows who she is and is confident and strong. I know she’s 2, but if you met her, you’ll see what I mean. You bring up some important points of how to make sure that our girls stay strong and true to themselves.

    • says

      Thank you for your kind words! I appreciate it! I know that a strong relationship with my girls (they are only 3.5 years old) over the following years will make a huge difference. Considering my not-so-strong relationship with my mother, I’m thankful I managed to still have a relatively great sense of self-worth and positive self-esteem though. And, so maybe it’s good I am not the type of person who cares about chasing after the next big thing.

  8. Anna says

    I thank God for Moms and Dads that care enough to say I will raise my child or children in the fear of the Lord.
    Knowing that in the end only what is good and right will our treasure. God bless the family of God! <3

  9. says

    This resonates with me on so many levels. My mom is one of those people who thinks that your waistline and your worth as an individual are inversely proportional… by the time I was 12 she had me on fad diet after fad diet. And much like yours, she missed out on so many of my concerts and activities because she had “more important things to do”… my dad was always there, though.

    I try to make sure my own 4 daughters have a very different experience (and my sons, too!) Lots of affection, love, hugs and kisses… a lot of time spent doing silly “girly” things like putting up their hair and painting their nails (not things I particularly love doing, but they love the time spent on “beauty parlor” with them) as well, as making sure to point out to them how they are strong and capable, funny and silly, smart and talented, etc., as well as letting them know I think they are awfully pretty, too!

    And I completely agree about faith… I wouldn’t have survived my teenage years without mine and I love seeing my children develop theirs!

    • says

      Thanks for commenting Elisabeth! It sounds like you are doing great things for your children. I’m sorry you also had a less than stellar mother! Fad diets at 12? That’s pretty awful! I’m sure that didn’t help you developing a great self-image, no matter how much you actually weighed. And, I, too, give my children much more love and affection than my parents and siblings did growing up. The great thing is when we are aware of the poor habits of our parents we can correct them in the next generation, right?

      And I paint my daughters nails sometimes too. 🙂 It may be the bribe for them to calm down and let me clip their finger nails/toe nails though!

  10. says

    Good morning! Your post is among this week’s featured and will be shared on FB, Twitter, and pinned to Pinterest. Thanks for linking up at A Mama’s Story and help yourself to a featured button. 🙂

    • says

      Thank you so much for featuring me! I am very honored! I loved the other two posts that were featured this week too! I love your blog and love seeing all the status updates on Facebook.

  11. says

    Thanks again for linking up at Anything Goes last week. I featured this post at this week’s link-up! I would love it if you stopped by and linked up a post or two this week. You can grab an “I was featured” button as well if you like! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


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