Appreciating your daughter’s outer beauty is important, but so is recognizing and valuing the other elements that make her so special. Help her realize that we have many other qualities beyond our looks and that measuring our worth by competing and comparing looks doesn’t promote a positive sisterhood.
For as long as we can remember, it has been considered normal to compliment girls on their looks. It’s standard protocol when meeting a little girl to say “what a pretty dress you’re wearing” and later in life when meeting our friends to say “you look great, have you lost weight?”
While we may be genuine in our compliments in both these situations, we are inadvertently reinforcing the importance of good looks. We’re also missing an opportunity to reinforce the other things we value in them. It doesn’t mean you can never talk about appearance again, but praising the things you appreciate in your daughter (and others) that are not appearance-related will help her to find balance in the things she values as well.
“We try to compliment and praise our two daughters regularly to help them build their confidence and self-esteem,” says mom Gill. “We say nice things about how they look, but we try to praise their intelligence, good school work and helpfulness more – so that they don’t think praise only relates to how one looks.”
Self-esteem expert Dr. Christina Berton says that “by praising your daughter and focusing on her actions and positive behavior you will help her to recognize and value her qualities and see herself in a more positive light. Strengthening the overall confidence of our girls as mothers is what we all strive for.”
Recognizing that there’s more to beauty than the way we look is a vital part of your daughter becoming body confident. By learning to appreciate other people’s attributes and qualities, she’ll begin to see beyond her own appearance and start to like all sorts of other things about herself.
“Encouraging her to think about other people’s attributes will help her to see that there’s lots more to admire beyond how we look and will help her to value more about herself than her appearance,” says Dr. Berton.
And ensuring your daughter has a range of role models who inspire her for more than their looks is an important step towards helping her reach her full potential. It’s normal to have beauty icons, but encourage her to find beauty in a diverse range of people. It can be helpful to think about your own view here. Who are your icons and how are you expressing your own aspirations in front of your daughter?
Try following our action checklist for ways to shift the focus from looks – and enjoy the way it makes you both feel about yourselves.
To protect privacy we’ve changed the names of the people whose stories we tell on these pages. But the stories they tell are absolutely genuine.
Start by looking at your own role models: Focus on why you admire people for things other than their looks, from friends and family to celebrities and people in the media.
Make a positive list: Write down the qualities you admire in one another which aren’t related to appearance. Remind yourself of them when you need a boost – and do the same for her.
Apply it to yourself: What do you value in yourself beyond your looks? Do you talk openly about how proud you are of the things you do at work and explain how hard you work to achieve them?
Now apply it to your daughter: Telling your daughter the ways in which you value her and the things about her you’re proud of is key. She might say that those things don’t count, and that all she cares about is the way she looks, but it can still penetrate.
Be persistent: Try to be as specific as possible and give examples. Saying “I’m really impressed with how much effort you put into your last English essay” sounds more meaningful than simply “You’re a really hard worker.”
Ask her about her role models too: It’s also a good idea to get her to identify what she admires about others – from her friends and relatives to celebrities. Ask her “If you were your cousin what would you be most proud of?” or “What do you most admire about Jessie J?” If she gives you answers that are all relating to appearance, try something like “And how about putting looks aside?”
Thinking beyond beauty in the day to day: When talking about women, whether you admire them or are critical of them, try to give reasons that do not relate to appearance. If you’re watching TV or reading the paper and you notice someone inspiring, bring it up naturally in conversation.
Media Smarts: Body Image
Dr. Christina Berton Self-esteem expert and founder of Amara Pro Self-Esteem Foundation.
Article date: 01 July 2013
Review date: 01 July 2014
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