Love Your Body

Boosting our daughters’ self-esteem


Every mother hopes to nurture her daughters and help them grow into confident young women—yet six out of 10 girls say they stop participating in activities they love because they feel bad about their looks, according to Dove Global Research: Rebuilding the Foundation of Beauty Beliefs.

Messages about beauty and body image start early, and words matter. So how best to boost our daughters’ self-esteem and promote positive body image?

First of all, talk about it. “Talk to her about how she can develop a relationship to beauty for herself—through self-care and respect, through critical thinking about media and advertisements, and by forming meaningful and honest friendships,” Dove Global Self-Esteem Ambassador Jess Weiner said. “This isn't a one-and-done conversation; it's an ongoing connection to your daughter that can allow for enough room to change and grow and evolve as she does.”

As Weiner suggests, make sure that part of the conversation involves getting real about the media your daughter absorbs. While altered images in movies, advertisements and print media have an effect, social media play a role as well—more than half (56%) of women surveyed for Dove’s National Study of How Women Define Beauty Today said that social media have a greater impact on how they view beauty than traditional media. Rather than permitting our daughters simply to absorb this daily barrage of unrealistic imagery, discuss what goes into the creation of images in magazines and on TV.

While you’re at it, watch your words. The vocabulary we use to describe others and ourselves is powerful. Curb negative, appearance-linked comments, opting for the more optimistic description when possible. No one wants to have “frizzy” hair—but who wouldn’t want to hear her curls compared to a movie star’s ringlets?

Better yet, make an effort to praise the person, not her appearance. A friend regularly tells her infant daughter, “You’re beautiful—but that’s not the most important thing.” The most important thing might be how well your toddler shared her toys at daycare, or how thoughtful your preschooler is when she ‘helps’ Dad tidy up the living room.

Don’t compare. Negative self-talk almost always involves unflattering comparisons between external entities and ourselves. Your daughter is an individual—make sure she knows you accept her as she is, rather than in relation to anyone else.

It’s also worth starting with yourself. Many women acknowledge that they don’t come to motherhood with the strongest self-images. Want to get serious about preventing your own weight issues or personal insecurities from affecting your daughters’ development? Get help, Weiner advised, and be aware. “[Then] you’re already helping to protect her,” Weiner said. “It is in the awareness that you can take action and ensure that you don’t unknowingly pass on these insecurities and beliefs.”

Part of that may involve something as simple as making time to get active. Appreciating our bodies for what they can do for us, as opposed merely to how they look, builds confidence one workout (or tennis game, 5K or weightlifting session) at a time.

And encourage your daughters to find a calling by letting them see you pursuing your own, non-appearance-oriented interests. “When moms have a life full of personal or professional passions, it speaks volumes to their daughters that this is where to put the emphasis of intention,” Weiner said. “Expand your mind and interests, get active in your community, be of service to others—these are strong foundational principles that help build lasting confidence.”

But don’t pretend that beauty and body image aren’t issues—embrace beauty where you find it and teach her that enjoying beautiful things or feeling good about her appearance in no way compromises her intellect or seriousness as a person.

Finally, follow your own advice: “Our mothers model to us what it can be like to be a woman. So when we hear her tear herself down, critique her body or beauty, or play small in work or with friends, daughters can internalize those moments as messages about their own potential self-worth,” Weiner said. “When a mom practices self-care, speaks positively of herself and others, values her beauty both inside and out, then daughters can see those actions as quite empowering and aspirational.”

Learn more ideas about how to build girls’ confidence through the Dove Self-Esteem Project, which has already reached 13 million people and aims to touch 15 million young people by the end of 2015.