watching a video when one of the characters made an insulting remark about
another character's weight. I don't remember which cartoon it was, but I do
remember I seized the opportunity to give my daughters—then around 6 and
8 years old—a passionate, excruciatingly long lecture about the importance
of having a positive self-image. If I had a soapbox handy, I would have climbed
right on top of it.
their pleas, I paused the tape and stood between them and the TV for added
impact, using the remote as a pointer to emphasize my point. "That," I said,
gesturing at the character now freeze-framed in his shame, "is wrong. Don't let
anyone talk to you like that." By the end of my ten-minute lecture (or was it
twenty?), I could tell they were mesmerized by the way they sat rigid, clutching
their juice boxes. Either that or maybe they both had fallen asleep.
Later, I told
my neighbor—the mother of two college-age sons—about the body-image lesson
I had given my girls. "Excellent," she said. "Now, all you have to do is stand
between them, the TV and the rest of the world for the next ten years!"
I knew what
she meant, and she was right. There, within the walls of my living room, I could
shield them from the harsh words of an animated character, but I wouldn't be
able to freeze-frame or mute what they would soon encounter at school, on the
subway, on the Internet and anywhere else people say things to undermine other
people—especially girls. In other words, everywhere for the rest of their
They've grown into smart, confident, outspoken humans who have a strong sense of self and their boundaries.
The only solution
was to help them #buildconfidence so that they could deal with whatever came
their way. It was up to my husband and I to give them the tools to filter what
they saw and heard and react—or not react—in a way that felt right to them.
We wouldn't always be there, chastising cartoon characters on their behalf. (Also, that one lecture had made me really tired and I didn't want to make a
habit of it.)
We set the foundation early on for a healthy body image in the girls. From when they were little, we were careful never to comment negatively
about their appearance or weight. I never talked about dieting around them,
instead emphasizing healthy eating (or what I like to call "realistic eating,"
meaning, you can have that doughnut and still
be a good person).
It wasn't easy. There were fights and eye rolling and slammed doors. I still stand by my reasoning that insisting they wear shorts underneath their miniskirts is purely for their own safety and not just me trying to infringe on their rights.
My husband, mindful of how words from Dad can be equally
helpful or hurtful to their self-esteem, has always gone out of his way to
compliment our girls—and me—on accomplishments and endeavors, not just on
appearance. (Insert non-sexist comment about him being "a keeper" here.)
My daughters are
17 and 19 now. They've grown into smart, confident, outspoken humans who have a
strong sense of self and their boundaries. They'll call out anyone (including
my husband and I) who makes a comment they think are perpetuating gender
certainly can't protect our kids from the harmful slings and arrows they'll
have hurled at them, we're their first line of defense in arming themselves. I
like to think that my grandiose lecture in the living room all those years ago
made a small impression and they hadn't slept through it after all. Building confident girls started at home for my husband and I. Maybe we
all need to start off by just hitting pause, speaking loudly—and wielding a
This article is part of mom.me's collaboration with The Representation Project and their #buildconfidence campaign. Research shows that body image issues originate well before adolescence and that parents are pivotal in instilling confidence in their children. #BuildConfidence campaign celebrates and empowers parents, caregivers and mentors who model positive self-esteem and body image. Share this article and tag #buildconfidence to help us spread the word!