When I asked a group of some 60 teenage girls, “Would having a boyfriend make you feel more beautiful?” the answer from the majority was a resounding Yes. But their answer caused warning bells to ring in my head, because I realised that so many young girls are feeding their feelings of self-worth and beauty from testosterone-charged, pimply-faced boys who are out to prove that they’re men.
In a 2004 survey of thousands of women from 10 countries, only 2 per cent described themselves as beautiful. It’s time we rethink, redefine and reeducate ourselves and others about the meaning of real beauty.
It starts with me
“If outer appearance is important to you and out of balance, chances are you have passed the same mindset on to your daughter,” says Vicki Courtney, author and speaker on issues of self-worth in young women. So unless we, as parents, have a healthy perspective on beauty, we will contribute to our girls buying into the narrow idea that beauty is all about one’s physical appearance.
Real beauty is feeling secure in our gender identity, knowing that we are created in the image of the God of the universe and are His masterpieces (Ephesians 2:10).
Redefining beauty starts with embracing our uniqueness and enjoying who we are as individuals without comparisons. It’s about choosing to embrace our quirkiness, knobby knees, imperfect complex- ions and homely cheekbones.
We need to re-educate ourselves and our girls Dr Seuss style: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no-one alive who is you-er than you.” Stick that quote on your mirror, look yourself in the eye and say it out loud each morning.
Negative comments about our own appearance or that of other women are not harmless. Bite back the comparisons and the gossip. Any jealous or resentful response toward physically beautiful women are a reflection of our own insecurities.
We shouldn’t slay other women with our words. Being a woman isn’t a competition. Instead, we should encourage and inspire each other to greatness.
Inspire and Empower
According to Dr Anita Gurian, a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry, “It is within the family that a girl first develops a sense of who she is and who she wants to become. Parents armed with knowledge can create a psychological climate that will enable each girl to achieve her full potential. Parents can help their daughters avoid developing, or overcome, negative feelings about themselves and grow into strong, self-confident women.”
Being a woman shouldn’t be onlyabout frills and heels. We need to teach our daughters to be proud of their femininity, their softness, their love of intimacy and their emotional souls.
Our daughters are inspired when, as mothers, we try out their skateboard, start a mud fight or get our doctorate. Teach them to change a car tyre and kill spiders. Make sure they know how to mow the lawn, use power tools and play sports. No job should be out of reach for our girls if God has gifted them and we’ve empowered them.
Don’t limit their choices. Encourage them in maths, buy them a chemistry set and take them to a football game. Make the family a safe and empowering place to grow confident girls who feel beautiful inside and out.
Children build inner strength when they fail at something, but first it requires letting them try. When we—especially dad or big brother— help our girls all the time or over- protect them, they can feel incapable or incompetent and think that women must always rely on men.
When the lid won’t come off the jam jar or there’s a desk to assemble, encourage them to find a way to solve the problem themselves. Every time they accomplish something difficult or new, it builds them up
at a deeper level and prepares them to jump back up when life knocks them down.
We should encourage our daughters to “try before they rely”; to have stamina and to use their brains. When we smash stereotypes and encourage our girls to try out their wings, they’ll radiate strength and beauty.
Protecting and Moulding
We know that the media bombards us with images of girls and women who’ve spent several hours in the make-up chair with a dozen stylists. Digital touch-ups and enhancements almost always take place
before anything is published. But we need to do more than acknowledge these facts. We need to educate and protect their minds and hearts.
On average, a child sees between 20,000 and 40,000 television commercials a year. According to The Butterfly Foundation (an organisation that helps young people deal with eating disorders), children are constantly bombarded with images about how they should look and what they should own. Body image disturbance is a significant mental and physical health issue that results in disordered eating patyerns, extreme weight control methods, excessive exercise and substance abuse.
Young people are desperate for role models and will voraciously devour media as they seek to establish their gender identity. Famous teens often become the role models for girls, who see them as measuring sticks for what all young women should be like.
Without our intervention, the media will answer their questions about “Who am I?”; “What is it like to be a woman?”; “How should a woman dress and behave?”; “What does it mean to be beautiful?”; “What standards and values do women hold to?”; “What makes a woman different from a man?”; and, “How do men want women to behave?”
A research paper titled “Beyond Stereotypes: Rebuilding the Foundation of Beauty Beliefs” explored self-esteem and the impact of beauty ideals on both women’s and girls’ lives, and it concluded that “most female teens ages 15 to 17 (83 per cent) agree that their mother has positively influenced their feelings about themselves and their beauty.” Growing up, 51 per cent of females between the ages of 18 and 64 wished their mother had talked to them more often about their beauty and body image.
Underneath, teens are still little girls who ache to connect with the wisdom and love of their mother and father. When was the last time you took your daughter out for ice- cream, just one-on-one, and let her share her week, her hopes and her dreams?
Our girls are beautiful. They just have doubts that they are. If we don’t tell our girls they’re our delight and that we think they’re terrific, somebody else will—and the message may not always be healthy.
The way we celebrate, inspire and encourage our beautiful girls as they grow their adult wings has a lifelong impact.
Many of the advertisements we see have the potential to make women feel unattractive and inadequate. Magazine models influence a young woman’s idea of the perfect body shape. Help your daughter develop a healthy sense of self-esteem and beauty by taking time to look at advertising together and discuss the following questions:
- How does she feel looking at the various adverts?
- What kind of stereotypes are the ads using?
- How are girls portrayed in relation to boys and sexuality?
- What’s the purpose of the advert?
Enable your daughters to respond intellectually and not emotionally to media, advertising and their peers. It can be very empowering for girls to realise that the media is out to manipulate their emotions, with selling a product as its sole motivation.
In August 2015, Australian activist group Collective Shout was successful in having popular men’s magazine Zoo Weekly pulled from the shelves of Coles supermarkets.
“Sexual objectification of women is Zoo Weekly’s core business. The publication contains highly sexualised images of women along with headlines and articles discussing their body parts,” the group said on its website.
“What chance does the younger generation have when they are being fed a diet of soft porn and the abuse, sexualisation and objectification of women have become so normalised?” A month later, publisher Bauer Media announced the closure of both the magazine’s print and online editions from October.