Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Building Your Teenage Daughter's Self-Esteem in an Image-Conscious Culture

I'll never forget what my mother made me do as a young teenager the first time I ever came home crying because I thought I was ugly and no one at school liked me. She stood me in front of the bathroom mirror and had me repeat, "I'm beautiful. I KNOW I'm beautiful. No one can convince me I'm not beautiful." The whole experience felt so silly that soon laughter was coming out of me instead of tears. I thought the whole idea was goofy. Little did I know how strong an influence these positive affirmations would have on my self-confidence and self-esteem the older I got.

My mother didn't technically come up with this idea on her own. In fact, a couple months prior, I came home from school recounting an incident I'd witnessed between a girl in my class and an older girl in the next grade up who I thought was the coolest of the cool. The older girl had overheard the younger girl bad-mouthing her on her looks. Confident in herself, the older girl approached the younger and said: "First of all, I KNOW I'm beautiful, so you can stop telling people I'm not. Secondly, it takes a really insecure person to put someone else down to make herself look better." After gawking at the incident and admiring the older girl's confidence, I told mom about the whole thing. Little did I know Mom would forever remember the incident and require me to compliment myself in the mirror any time in the future I ever expressed insecurity with my looks.

While my mother's technique for building self-esteem might not work for all teenage girls (after all, for some girls, it could lead to equally unhealthy arrogance), I believe positive affirmations can be a key part of building self-esteem in a teenage daughter. You can adapt your own, with examples being: "I am beautiful inside and out", "I have something to offer", or "I am confident and worthy of love."

Another way is to sit down and talk with your daughter about the importance of inner, spiritual beauty. This involves a serious discussion on how cultural and societal standards of beauty are not what make someone truly beautiful. True beauty, you can explain, is defined by one's actions, how one treats others, and by one's heart. A particularly fitting and timeless scripture that contrasts physical and spiritual beauty is 1 Peter 3:3-4, which can be used as a discussion point for people of faith.

Talking to your daughter about the magazines she reads is important. Many fashion magazines not only feature terrible celebrity role-models demonstrating that girls should dress "sexy" to get attention from guys, but many magazines also promote insecurity in teen girls by setting up paper-thin, airbrushed models caked with makeup as a standard for beauty. Explain to your daughter the difference between chasing an unrealistic and unattainable standard of beauty and taking care of her body for her overall health. (Also, here is a good youtube video you might consider showing your young girls about it)

Finally, it's important to explain to your daughter the difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract. While your daughter's friends may be wearing skin-tight, low-cut or super short items of clothing, you can explain that girls wearing clothing like this attract the wrong kind of attention young guys who flock to these girls for their bodies, not their hearts and minds. Explain to your daughter that dressing like this does not reflect confidence but insecurity, because they believe that dressing provocatively is the only way to get noticed. Encourage your daughter to set herself apart through her achievements, her friendly personality and her kindness toward others, the marks of true beauty. (Also see a previous post here)

This guest post is contributed by Kitty Holman, who writes on the topics of nursing schools. She welcomes your comments on this post or at her email Id:



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