Finding out I was having a baby girl changed my whole life.
At first I was terrified. I knew the sort of issues she might face, the kinds of self-limiting labels so thoughtlessly handed over with “girl.” I knew I wanted to raise a ferocious and confident kid, but also that I was ill-equipped. I had spent my whole life walking around like a question to be answered, or an apology.
I hated my body and I beat myself up constantly. I had a lot of work to do to change that, so I could be the mother I wanted to be. “How can I raise a confident girl?” has been very much on my mind since I became a mother to my now 6 year old girl. I don’t proclaim to be a perfect mother, like the rest of us, I brush myself off daily and take the lessons as they come.
But each new thoughtful choice, both in how we carry ourselves and what we teach our daughters, breathes new hope into me. That perhaps when she is faced with this question, “How will I raise a confident daughter?”, the road ahead might seem powerful and not so daunting, as the landscape of who we are allowed to be will have opened immensely.
I believe we can do that.
This is so important to me my daughter repeats it back to me often. “Who’s in charge of your body?”, I ask. “I am!” she responds immediately. She takes pride in that.
Establishing autonomy is as important for safety as it is for overall confidence.
Everywhere we turn there is messaging that as women our bodies are here for others; to be looked at, to decorate, to be picked apart and evaluated, to serve others. That messaging only matters so much as we agree with it. So, I’m teaching my girl early and often, her body is her own. She makes all the rules. She’s in charge. We started this conversation early. As soon as she was left in others’ care. We never spoke of scary possibilities, just empowering messaging. That she can always tell anyone what her boundaries are. Even adults. And that we will back her up.
I thought I would have more time with my baby before I’d have to explain magazine covers ripping apart celebrity beach photos and what cellulite is. But, she is six and she can read. Because I can’t be everywhere or keep every damaging message or photo-shopped images from her view, we just talk about it. Rather than feed her my own messaging I usually ask her questions about what she sees.
If she thinks it’s kind. If she would want to buy a magazine like that. We’re beginning to talk about how photos are changed. We’ve had conversations about dolls bodies being different than the women we see around us. We talk all the time about different kinds of beautiful. I love to watch her gears turning. I can’t keep the world out, but I can teach her to think critically and seek her own truths.
Between 40 percent and 60 percent of girls ages six to 12 are concerned about becoming too fat according to the National Eating Disorders Association. I first remember being concerned about this when I was four years old.
While there are plenty of places to point to for this phenomenon, I know I learned this from watching my mother pick herself apart. She would have never imagined saying something harsh to me, but it was how she treated herself that taught me the same. Teaching a daughter confidence can’t just be about what you say to her, it has to be about what you say to you.
Whenever I find myself with the inkling that something about my body isn’t OK, I ask myself if my current dialogue is good enough for my daughter. And if the answer is no, it certainly isn’t good enough for her Mom. That’s the trajectory. Talk the talk you want for them, not just at them. I know that can be hard to digest, and can dredge up guilt even. I encourage you to let that go, too.
You learned to beat yourself up somewhere too. Be kind to yourself as you learn a new way to think and speak about yourself, so you can move forward in a new way.
When I think about what I want for my daughter, I think about how I want her to walk into rooms. Like she deserves to be there. As though if she wants a spot at the table, it’s hers. And that she has every right to take up space. So, if that’s what I want for my baby girl, I have to show up and do just that. You can’t teach that kind of empowerment, you have to embody it. Literally, walk taller. Take up space. This has nothing to do with comparison, arrogance or being better than anyone else. It’s about owning your personal power, and walking in it.
Start small. Here are a few of my favorite ways to practice:
It may seem silly, but those small practices can slowly add up to a different perception of yourself.
It may well be the hardest thing you ever do, becoming the confident woman you want your daughter to look up to. But you’re both worth the investment.
If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.
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