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Protecting a Daughters Self-Esteem from False Media Messages

I sure could use your advice…

Sometimes I worry the false ideal of beauty presented in advertising, TV and film may harm our daughter in some way. How do you counter the tremendously unrealistic messages they send?

In my gut, I feel the things that I say to her each day are laying a foundation, good or bad, for her future self-esteem. Before other influences become stronger, what should I do and not do?

As a new dad, I want to do the right thing

Is telling her she’s beautiful the wrong thing to do, because it sets up an inappropriate focus on the value of something over which she has little control? Should I focus on accomplishments instead?

Below is a photo of several Victoria’s Secret models before and after makeup and retouching. Clearly they were already beautiful beforehand, but the degree of difference is a bit shocking.

Victoria’s Secret models before and after makeup and retouching

Obviously concern about media’s portrayal of beauty’s ideal is nothing new. In fact that’s why I’m writing this post. Many of you have traversed this path with your kids before me.

I need your help before it’s too late

My little girl is not quite 4 years old, so her exposure has been pretty limited so far. We monitor her TV viewing closely, and she does not watch channels that run commercials spots.

Clearly to me, she’s the most beautiful child on the planet, but I know at some point the positive messages I send will be come less important than those she receives from peers and TV?

What do you advise I do or not do?

[important]If you liked this post, please see my newest post on this subject:  Healthy Body Image – Seventeen Magazine versus Teen Vogue[/important]

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  1. Alan

    I have two daughters of my own and have struggled, continue to struggle, with the same thing. A few months ago I read this article, http://jeffdlawrence.com/2011/12/23/some-thoughts-on-how-to-talk-to-little-girls/. I don’t know your beliefs, but it’s a fantastic article and has something of value for everyone. Hope it helps. It did for me.

    Oh, I have no connection whatsover to that website.

    Great blog you have here!

    1. Michael Schmid

      Alan, thank you so much for your comment. Jeff D. Lawrence made some great points in this piece. I was unfamiliar with the Huffington Post piece by Lisa Bloom, and will read that as well. I’m glad I’m not alone in these concerns. Thank you so much for your thoughtful, helpful comment, Alan.

  2. Amy

    I’m a feminist, and I have a daughter, and I think about this stuff a lot. I know it’s incredibly important for our girls to feel valued for who they are inside and not just their looks. But I think it would be both difficult and unkind to abstain completely from compliments about how adorable they are – especially from Daddy. Don’t they always say a girl’s relationship with her father forms the template for all future relationships? I think she needs to know her Daddy thinks she’s beautiful.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Don’t they always say a girl’s relationship with her father forms the template for all future relationships?

      Now there’s a terrifying thought, Amy. I know there’s something to that thought, and I take my responsibility very seriously… thus this post. But I often feel I don’t really know how to achieve the appropriate balance. I really appreciate your input. You can rest assured she knows every day how smart and talented and beautiful and most of all LOVED she is. Thanks again, Amy!

  3. DorkDad

    I too have a young daughter and all the same fears. I focus on building the strongest of foundations from the very beginning, because that is what’s going to carry her through when the winds of society threaten to knock her down. I make sure we vocalize how we value things in addition to how cute her clothes are. “How’s my beautiful, smart, sweet, wonderful girl doing?” Never, “How’s my beautiful girl doing?”.

    I do everything to stack the deck in favor of me (her dad) being the most important relationship in her life. When she takes cues for what a man values in her (and in other women), I want her to take those cues from me, and so I have to make sure that I communicate all the right messages with my own actions.

    As far as Lawrence’s article goes, it’s all well and good, but when it comes to self esteem I steer my kids as far away from scripture as possible. Ultimately a person’s sense of self-worth has to come from within. It has to originate from within themselves. If they look to external sources (scripture) for validation, for confirmation that what they’re doing is good and right, that’s the absolute opposite of self-esteem. Taking their cues from scripture is no different than taking their cues from their peers or the oversized glossy magazines that cause women to hate their own bodies. They need decide on THEIR OWN what’s good and right… and the blocks used to build that foundation can only come from her parents… especially dad.

    -Dork Dad

    1. Michael Schmid

      Hi, Sam. What you say makes a lot of sense to me. BTW, I appreciate your polite, measured dissent with some of J.D. Lawrence’s points (referenced in an earlier comment). I’ve found most of the parents I meet online like this all are good people trying to do the best by their kids they can… and also trying to help and support other parents as well.

      We don’t always have to agree, though that said, I would like to throw the Tiger Mom in the ring with the Panda Dad some time. 😉 I think you are right about the key role a father can and should play play in helping his daughter construct a sound foundation. Ultimately though, she must be the one to build it, and as you say they must eventually look inside for validation if they are to be truly happy.

      That’s not to say a book (religious or otherwise) which provides good guidance is a problem, per se. The interpretation thereof however may be, e.g. reliance upon it as if it were some sort of magical talisman that will inoculate a child from future problems is clearly not realistic. As always, the role of parents early in the life of a child is the most important ingredient.

      1. DorkDad

        good guidance is never a problem. But a developing girl’s self-esteem has everything to do with how her mind works. It is a parent’s responsibility to help that mind develop. If a young woman is to have self esteem she must be able to stand up, often in counterpoint to the chorus of the masses, and say “Wait a minute! The Emperor has no clothes!” I want my daughter to be able to decide for herself what is right and what is good. Although charity, community and forgiveness are wonderful attributes to foster, accepting authority for no reason other than someone else’s assertion of authority is the very antithesis of developing self esteem. There will always be some Vogue executive claiming authority on what’s beautiful too happy to tell her that there is something wrong with her body. There will always be some sorority/cheerleader/meangirl telling her she’s wearing the wrong shoes. These people are very charismatic, they claim authority and expect aquiescence from their followers. As my daughter’s mind develops I want her to have the skills to resist those things.

        Girls need values and the self-esteem that comes from staying true to those values. But for values to turn into self-esteem, our daughters have to have ownership over those values. They have to write them, ratify them, and practice them all on their own. To “turn their lives over” to someone else’s authority doesn’t make them strong. It makes them sheep. That doesn’t sound like self-esteem to me.

        -DD

        1. Michael Schmid

          Well said… er… written. Thanks.

  4. Multi-Testing Mommy

    This is such a tough topic – I have a daughter and struggle with this too!

    I think as parents, we do need to monitor what they are exposed to on the tv and to TALK ABOUT IT! Also positive female role models who they are close to!

    I try to tell my daughter that I think she is beautiful every single day. Sometimes it’s when she is dressed up, sometimes it’s when she is in her pjs and sometimes it is when she is covered in dirt 😉

    1. Michael Schmid

      I love your comment. Thank you. The are beautiful aren’t they, aren’t they? whether dressed up, or in their pjs and sometimes when they are covered in dirt. :) Yes, monitoring the messages they receive, and TALKING about everything is so very important; though sometimes hard to do at the end of grueling day. Good female role models are important, as you say. And good male role models (especially the dad) to set the expectations for the future men in a girls life. Have a super night!

  5. JDaniel4's Mom

    I don’t have girl, but I know that for every negative comment a person needs ten positive! I don’t think it is bad to start building up the good ahead of time.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Boy, isn’t that the truth, D! You’re right, let’s start building up the good now, and in all of the different areas that are important to well balanced self-esteem.

  6. Dr Rosina McAlpine

    Hi Michael

    What a great question. I was recently asked a similar and related question about “body image” by another concerned dad. As an advocate for teaching children key life skills, I suggested that this issue could be informed 2 ways:

    1. focus on teaching your daughter how to maintain her general health and well-being through healthy diet and exercise. In this way, weight and other body related issues are less likely to occur.

    2. help your daughter to understand that she has the birth right to good self esteem simply because she is a human being. Help her see that her self esteem has nothing to do with what she does or how she looks but who she is being – that is being herself… is special! For more on this you can check out my video of a recent talk I did about supporting personal power in our children. http://www.inspiredchildren.com/life-skills-for-kids/personalpower.html Hope this helps

    Sincere best

    Dr Rosina

    1. Michael Schmid

      Thanks for weighing in, Rosina. That’s very helpful. I’m going to attach an excerpt from one of your presentations on the importance of children developing life skills, e.g. Self Esteem and Self Confidence. I hope other readers will visit your site, and learn more if they are interested.

      1. Dr Rosina McAlpine

        Hi Michael
        Thanks for sharing the video. I hope it helps parents who wants to know more about supporting healthy self-esteem! Take care and best wishes on your parenting journey!
        Dr Rosina

  7. Susan

    It can really be tough for a parent to tell his daughter that there is more to it than what the media tell is beautiful. I tell them about the more important things in life, like living healthily, and the benefits of exercise (but as a way to achieve a healthy and strong body). Aside from that is the idea that it is better to learn more knowledge than to look good.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Tell them about the more important things in life, like living healthily, and the benefits of exercise (but as a way to achieve a healthy and strong body). Aside from that is the idea that it is better to learn more knowledge than to look good.

      I think that’s great advice. So focus what you say (and the example your actions provide) in a way that supports health and feeling good, e.g. through exercise and wise food choices, as an end in and of itself. Thank you, Susan!

  8. Shannon

    I agree with what some have said- the important thing is praising her for things she CAN control- like being a hard worker, never giving up, being kind to others etc…

    Although I certainly think she IS beautiful I dont want that to be where she sees her worth as a person:)

    1. Michael Schmid

      I’m most certainly biased, but I agree she IS beautiful; as you say that ought not be the source of ones self-esteem or confidence. Thanks for your comment, Shannon!

  9. Manuela

    It must be a very complicated situation, because every dad is a man, and like all men, they want that all the women would look like the models of a victoria’s secret show. But they wouldn’t like to see their daughters (although they are already older than 21) as a model on a stage, they feel some kind of shame then. I cannot understand the men’s mind, I think:)

    1. Michael Schmid

      I’m going to guess you are not alone in your challenges concerning the understanding of men’s minds. Heck, I can’t understand my own half the time. That said, I actually would not want all women to look like Victoria’s Secret models. The body image they project, and is often accepted by our young women, is neither healthy or natural.

  10. Andrea B (@goodgirlgonered)

    I haven’t read all of the comments, but I know, I do so know.

    I have a 5yo daughter and she is beautiful. Most of our children are, right? And not just to us, but to so many other people. Biased or not, I find nothing wrong with them being told they are beautiful. Pretty. Stuff like that. Whether they’re dressed normally, dressed themselves creatively, or playing dress-up. In fact, when my daughter storms the dress-up bin and decides that her tiara makes her beautiful I say she looks beautiful, but she’s always beautiful. So I cover all bases.

    But last night we had a long talk. I told her she is a smart kid. (She started camp yesterday and we were discussing what she learned and staying w/her “teacher” while there. Confusing, but it’s farm camp. I digress …) And she said, I am?

    I didn’t gasp or stumble. I just simply said YES. And then I explained why. We covered math, spelling, creativity, building things, so much more. As long as she knows how smart, tough and strong she is and can be? Then she can know that she is beautiful, too. As a child who struggled with weight issues and was told I looked pretty by family, but often made to feel (not unloved at all) as though I was *such a pretty face* and missing it elsewhere – that beauty related reinforcement doesn’t cause an ego that inflates to cover the world. It gives them confidence and shows them they are beautiful when they’re happy and strong and powerful.

    And that’s my ramble about that. Sorry. This stuff is always so heavy for me. Perhaps you’ve just prompted me to write my own post … oops. 😉

    1. Michael Schmid

      As long as she knows how smart, tough and strong she is and can be? Then she can know that she is beautiful, too.

      You should write your own post on this if you’ve not already. You express yourself well, and I totally see your point. I certainly have not stopped telling my daughter she’s beautiful, but as you say, there needs to be appropriate balance. Thanks so much for your candid thoughts, Andrea.

      p.s. Here’s a link (just below) to a photo of our three year old fresh from bed one morning.

  11. ACW

    I don’t think I can add much to the discussion here that hasn’t already been said. I think it’s important to let our children know that they are smart and kind and generous /and/ attractive. Emphasis in our home is on health and hygiene, as opposed to weight and (media-dictated) beauty.
    I just want to suggest a book on the subject that I read when our second daughter was in kindergarten, which my husband and I found helpful. I don’t agree with 100% of their ideas, but a good portion of them: Packaging Girlhood by Sharon Lamb & Lyn Mikel Brown. http://www.packaginggirlhood.com/

    1. Michael Schmid

      I agree with the idea of putting a focus on health and hygiene versus someone elses idea of beauty or the appropriate weight. I’ll definitely check out the book. I grew up with a brother, but no sisters, so anything I can learn that can help me be a better parent to a girl I want see. And I understand it’s with a caveat that you don’t agree with all of their ideas. Thanks so much!

  12. Jim

    From early days I have talked with my daughters (now in their teens), as well as our son, about ‘best effort.’ They know that I’ll always be more excited for a best effort performance, regardless of the outcome, than for a win/grade of ‘A’/etc. that they coasted into. I believe, and continue to hope, that they will hold onto that world view as the core of their self-esteem so that they will not get drawn into ‘society doesn’t want you to be able–society wants you to be pretty.’

    So far, so good, but I do realize you’re absolutely right–other messages are all over. Thanks for posting about this.

    1. Michael Schmid

      I like the way you put that… “best effort”. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks so much for dropping by!

  13. Kirsten

    Michael,

    I have a son and a daughter, 11mths apart. They’re birthdates have placed them in the same grade. They are entering High School. Both of my children are very accomplished and talented. I believe for my daughter, one of the greatest things I and my ex did for her was and continues to be- We never tell her she cannot do something because she is a girl. We have given her every opportunity that we have given her brother. When and she does occassionally say she can’t do something….I sit her down ask her why she thinks this and we discuss her thoughts, then I or my ex, even her brother has helped, we explain or show her how she can do what she decides. If she truely wants it, we will and can make it happen as her family support system. A child who is loved can conquer any challenge.

    With all this said….she doesn’t conform to the norm of what others want. She is a Leader and a Beauty at that. The confidence with which she carries herself puts her in a class above any supermodel mold the world has offered.

    I wish you the best with raising your children.

    And Bless your family!

    1. Michael Schmid

      A child who is loved can conquer any challenge.

      Great comment, thank you, Kristen. And thanks for the best wishes and blessing. I can use all the help I can get.

  14. Deb @ Raising Figure Skaters

    Such an important topic, Michael! My daughter was a World-level ice dancer, so we saw lots of examples of eating disorders and low self-esteem among her peers. Fortunately, our daughter was able to avoid an eating disorder herself. Although we told her she was beautiful, she also knew that we appreciated every effort she made in any area. Our emphasis really wasn’t on winning and success as much as it was on character development. I think our daughter’s self-confidence was able to help her avoid an eating disorder.

    I have a post about this topic with a link to a petition by teenage girls to change the images girls see in magazines. I love seeing teenagers work to change things for the better! (I signed the petition!) http://raisingfigureskaters.com/2012/07/20/help-our-daughters-have-healthy-body-images/

    1. Michael Schmid

      Hi, Deb. I just read your post and absolutely love it. Thank you so much for sharing that with us other parents. I’ve already shared it with our 25K followers via Twitter, but I’d like to do more. I’m going to post a quick post that’s really more of an ad for your post about girls’ body image. I want to be sure others see it. With your permission, I’d like to use that great graphic as a link back to your post? I love what the initial petition achieved at Seventeen Magazine, and I’d love to see it achieve the same at Teen Vogue. Thanks again for the great post, Deb! I hope a lot of parents read it.

  15. Crystal

    Thank you so much for linking it up to The Mommy Club last week! Congrats your post was the #1 most clicked post for the week. You are featured on my blog! Thanks again for sharing!

    Crystal
    http://www.crystalandcomp.com/2012/08/the-mommy-club-share-your-resources-and-solutions-57/

  16. Dave E Wilkes

    That is a great question.

    I have one daughter and three sons (and nine grandchildren!) – just so you know i have had a bit of practice with this..

    And, for what it is worth, I think all praise is good. I think giving praise is similar to using the carrot instead of the stick.

    But if a parent was to praise the physical attributes of a child but ignore the other characteristics, i think that could possibly give a skewed attitude to the receiver.

    But, if every day she was told that she was-
    beautiful
    kind
    thoughtful
    intelligent
    caring
    creative
    brave
    helpful etc etc

    then she would grow up with a positive all-round attitude towards herself, with her appearance just being one factor amongst so many others.

    And so, yes, tell your daughter how beautiful she is, but also tell her about all the other ways in which she is such a wonderful person (which i guess you already do anyway)

    1. Michael Schmid

      And so, yes, tell your daughter how beautiful she is, but also tell her about all the other ways in which she is such a wonderful person (which i guess you already do anyway)

      Sounds like super advice. Thank you so much for weighing in, Dave. Great to hear from another dad & granddad, to boot! Have a great week!

  17. Lindsay Foil

    I have a young daughter, and being a female myself I have always learned that telling a little girl how beautiful she is a good thing to do! First of all, girls only believe their parents about their looks a very small amount because we know that they are going to tell up we are beautiful no matter what. At the same time though, it builds our self-esteem and confidence. It is always the best to teach your children that they are beautiful, or handsome, no matter what, and that no amount of make up, surgery, or anything will ever change that. I tell my little girl that she is perfect exactly like she is. When she gets old enough to understand I will explain to her that every person is different which for one means that everyone looks different and is shaped different, but for two also means that what everyone sees as beautiful is different. Just because one person looks like this and this person likes them, does not mean that everyone will find that person beautiful. I believe this is a struggle everyone will go through with little girls, and it will only get worst as the media portrays attractive women as skinny, long hair, blah blah. The best we can is is just to keep reminding them that beauty is on everything, there are different types of beauty, skinny does not mean healthy, and skinny does not mean beauty. Also, make sure that your little girl knows that her personality and the type of person she becomes will far outshine what she looks like on the outside!

    1. Michael Schmid

      Hi, Lindsay. Thank you for your input. I’ve learned a lot from everyone’s slightly varying points of view. In the end, I suppose, it’s up to us as parents to work out what’s best for our unique children, but this has helped me a lot. Thank you.

      I believe this is a struggle everyone will go through with little girls, and it will only get worst as the media portrays attractive women as skinny, long hair, blah blah. The best we can is is just to keep reminding them that beauty is on everything, there are different types of beauty, skinny does not mean healthy, and skinny does not mean beauty. Also, make sure that your little girl knows that her personality and the type of person she becomes will far outshine what she looks like on the outside!

      ~Lindsay Foil

  18. Amelia

    Hi Michael,

    I see you have posted this over a year ago, but if you do happen to read my response, I thought you might be interested in my blog. I ‘tried’ to do modelling, and it was the most horrible, self-esteem crushing, depressing, worst decision I made in my life so far.

    As part of my recovery and to stop other girls suffering the same fate, my whole blog is about showing all the tricks, deception, illusions that go on in front of the camera and in editing.

    I am trying to educate people about how 99% of images of women they see in advertising are altered and edited in some way.

    I am also asking people to challenge their perception of what is beautiful, and why do we only deem wide set eyes, button noses, and pouty lips as the only characteristics of female beauty? (I know many people will talk about how these are signs of youth,and youth means you are fertile, so its natural to be attracted to these features – but what if you are young, like I was, and I didn’t have big wideset eyes, pouty lips OR a button nose, does that mean I am not fertile)

    When I look at the images of the models without editing, yes they look ‘beautiful’ but is that just because we are all so conditioned to see that as beautiful? Also to me, they look essentially like the SAME girl, with just minor differences in hair, eye and skin colour. Its like models these days are all ‘Ferrari’s’, same body and actions, but they just come in different colours. (bad analogy but you get the idea!)

    Anyway its not finished yet, but I hope it kind of takes the pressure off women, and they realize the images they are aspiring to actually aren’t real! I will be posting videos that show how the images are manipulated too. Hope it gives you more ammo to make sure your girl doesn’t take heed of the ridiculous requirements society is demanding of women.

    http://www.dissectingbeauty.blogspot.com.au

    1. Michael Schmid

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your site with us. I’ve promoted it to our followers via Twitter and Facebook. It’s such an important topic, and having a little girl I worry about it a lot. Thank you again!

  1. Healthy Body Image - Seventeen Magazine versus Teen Vogue

    […] recently wrote a post asking for advice on how we as parents can help protect our daughters’ self-esteem from false media messages in the face of the onslaught of ads, television, movies and magazines telling them (selling them, […]

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    […] Helping a Daughters Self Esteem from False Media Images from A Daddy Blog […]

  3. Healthy Body Image - Seventeen Magazine versus Teen Vogue

    […] recently wrote a post asking for advice on how we as parents can help protect our daughters’ self-esteem from false media messages in the face of the onslaught of ads, television, movies and magazines telling them (selling them, […]

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