As a mom of three girls, I get pretty freaked out every time I turn on the news or read the day's headlines. So many horrible things are happening around the world, and women have it worst of all. Sending my babies out into the world leaves me with a mountain of fear. To top it off, my husband just finished reading "Missoula" by Jon Krakauer, which is about the culture of rape on college campuses. Of course, it has me paralyzed with worry.
How do we teach our daughters to love and respect their bodies? How do we teach them about sexuality in a positive way while still warning them about the realities of rape? How do we give them the confidence to go out into the world and make good decisions about their bodies?
My girls are young now. They don't know about sex or the mountain of things that come with it.(But when they ask, I will tell them. Right now, my husband and I have decided to start with teaching our girls that their bodies are their own. We want them to love their bodies and to respect them. We don't want them to grow up thinking that their worth is only found in how they look. We don't want them to grow up embarrassed of their bodies or afraid to ask us questions about sexuality.
As crazy as it sounds to teach a three-year-old that their body is theirs alone, it's actually quite simple. Here are some basic things that my husband and I do with our girls that we think are helping to establish positive body image.
Baby talk. Starting as infants, children have the opportunity to have a positive image of their body. As you are changing diapers and bathing your young children, be kind to them about their bodies. Treat their bodies with respect.
Let them dress themselves. I can say firsthand that giving children the freedom to pick out their own clothes is a great way to help them gain confidence about their body. They feel capable and independent.
Use real names. Part of having body confidence is being able to identify your parts for what they are. We don't use words like "pee pee" or "potty place" and then giggle. Instead, we use anatomical names for all parts of the body. There's nothing to be embarrassed about.
Ask for permission. As a parent, there are some occasions when you need to look at your child's private parts. When you do, make sure to ask for permission. Asking "may I please see the rash on your bottom?" teaches children that they are in control of their body and who sees it.
Give them control. Do they want to paint their nails? Cut their hair? Get their ears pierced? Give them some freedom to make age-appropriate decisions about their body.
Be a role model. As it goes with anything else, you've got to lead by example. If you want your girls to have a positive self image, you've got to have one, too. If you want them to love and appreciate their bodies, you've got to love and appreciate yours. If you want them to be open and honest in your conversations, you've got to do the same.