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Body Image and Influence

by Sarah Marsh

Vogue magazine recently announced that it will no longer recruit or hire girls under the age of 16 or young women who look to have eating disorders. News channels all across the world covered the story. This seems like the perfect time to address body image and the struggle girls have building self-esteem especially in the formative years. Bethany Dillon's song "Beautiful" speaks to girls and women of all ages and cultures. She articulates words that echo the struggle that every female has to find her true beauty,

"I cake on the makeup to cover it all.
Crying myself to sleep because I can't keep their attention...
I want to be beautiful and make you stand in awe.
Look inside my heart and be amazed.
I want to hear you say who I am is quite enough.
I just want to be worthy of love and beautiful."

Conversations concerning issues such as self-esteem, dieting, beauty, and eating disorders have become taboo, but girls are constantly faced with commercials, movies, music, and magazines that promote superficial and often fake beauty that has been tampered with using beauty products and photo editing software. Now, finally, it seems like society (or at least the fashion industry) will be giving girls a tiny, little break from being bombarded with unrealistic expectations.
And though that is something to be celebrated, one should question how much undeserved influence society has given to corporations in the fashion industry. Since when did runway models become acceptable examples for girls to look up to and pattern lifestyles after?

The issue was not necessarily that magazines and other media sources were choosing a certain type of girl. No, the issue was how much credibility we give those sources and the influence they are to this younger generation (and every generation, for that matter)! Little girls need to be taught that they are beautiful simply because they are God's creation, and what better place to start than the home and class room?

First Peter 3:3,4 (The Message) says, "What matters is not your outer appearance - the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes - but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in." Of course little girls want to know that their daddies think they are beautiful, of course teenagers want to feel like they impress their friends. Leaders, teachers, and parents cannot afford to give a halfhearted effort in building self-esteem in the girls of this generation.

The greatest influence a daughter/student can have is that of a trusted woman in her life living a life worth imitating. Here are some practical tips and ideas:

  • Do not speak negatively about your own body in front of your students/daughters. They notice every critical comment you make about yourself and then start making those same statements about their own bodies.
  • Have a few "No Makeup Mondays" (or Saturdays). Society has trained us to equate beauty with makeup; however, this exercise will help girls find the raw beauty in natural facial features (deep eye colors, already defined lips, etc.).
  • Have girls compliment their favorite thing about themselves and then affirm that, while also pointing out your favorite thing about their personality or character. This will help them understand that beauty is not just what a person looks like, but rather who the person is.
  • Discuss the illusion created by photo/media editing tools and software. (Check out "Dove - Evolution" on YouTube.)

Of course, you dads have a role to play too! What can you do to ensure that you raise daughters who are confident in who they are?

  • Be there for birthday parties, concerts, sporting events, church activities. Your presence shows your support and validates your daughter.
  • Have fun by taking family vacations or buying her a special treat when running errands.
  • Listen ... a lot! Create an environment where there is time and freedom to talk about their day, their friends, their challenges, their dreams, what they learned at church, what they thought of a movie, etc.
  • Teach her something new like small household repairs, car maintenance, or fishing! Imparting some of your knowledge to her is an excellent way to bond ... if you're patient while she catches on.
  • Be a godly example. The way a father treats other women will play a significant role in the kind of boys, then guys, then men your daughter will gravitate towards.

Sarah Marsh just graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from Central Bible College. She and her fiancé, Stephen, are both from Virginia Beach, VA, but live in Springfield, MO, being employed at the National Leadership and Resource Center (Stephen in Center for Holy Lands Studies and Sarah in national Girls Ministries).

 

Authors: Sarah Marsh