We’ve been asked before on Ungrind how to respond to people who complement the appearance of our children. I think the question rises from a sincere desire for our children to not struggle with their appearance while living in a culture that values appearance.
I’ve shared on Ungrind before how I struggled with my body image for many, many years. Why did I struggle? Why did I have a hard time seeing myself the way God made me? Why did I still desire for external beauty acceptance from others? Was it because of my home life? Did I receive too many complements or too few complements on my appearance? We can speculate what causes girls to struggle with their body image but honestly, I’m not sure why I struggled the way I did. I grew up in a healthy, loving, functional family. My worth was affirmed by them and by trustworthy people, yet somehow I still managed to struggle.
The reality is that no matter our upbringing in this culture, there is something inside us from an early age that desires to be known as beautiful. And beauty in and of itself isn’t bad. Some people think that Christian values are against about beauty. I disagree. Christian beliefs don’t negate beauty. The Bible doesn’t teach us to flee from beautiful things. Scripture contains references to beautiful women and men like Esther or King David. We shouldn’t run from beauty but rather teach our children to notice all things great about someone that God made.
We carry great fear with our daughters. We fear that we will cause them to have a poor body image or better yet someone else will cause them to have a poor body image. The reality is that we cannot protect or guard our girls from everything in life or the culture, but we can teach them how to live within our culture and how to recognize truth and lies.
The first step of teaching your children how to know where their worth comes from is to accept that you live in a culture that values beauty. Whether you think that’s good or bad, you need to accept and understand where you live. The reason why is that you need to figure out how to model to your girls the way to live in this culture that values external beauty.
You train by modeling. If people complement your daughter on her outward appearance, don’t feel the need to instruct that person on where real worth lies. You are not responsible for that person’s enlightenment. Your job is to model healthy body image and reinforce God’s truth to your children. Your job is to teach your children to say “thank you” when given a complement. You are the model standing in front of them on a daily basis. You don’t need to set up a flip chart in the kitchen and make a big deal of it. You simply, as you go throughout your day, speak truth over them. “All people are beautiful because God made them and He everything He made was good.” “We are His creation. And we have value because of that — not because of anything external.”
Sometimes as a parent, we just need to know what to say to our children. Here are some things to say to your children according to their age and stage of life:
- Preschool. Reinforce that God made them. God makes all things beautiful.
- Elementary. Beauty is more than just what you and others can see. Treat others the way you want to be treated. People are beautiful because God makes beautiful things.
- Teenager. You have value apart from anything external because God made you. And if you are a Christian, when God looks at you He mostly just sees Jesus. And in Christ you are chosen, holy, and loved.
What do you want your girls to believe about themselves? Whatever the answer is, model it for them. Be brave. Be strong. Be smart. Be capable. Be beautiful. Be healthy. Model how to treat food. Not by dieting, but by being healthy as a lifestyle. Model how to worship God with your body by exercising. It’s not about how many calories you burn, but about moving your body in a way that throws back praise. Model how to accept complements.
Good or bad, you will be the voice in her head. Words have the power to shape. So even if they hear words about beauty from strangers, reinforce truth to her. Your daughter still needs to hear from you that she is beautiful. If you neglect to talk about something as big as physical appearance then there is a likely chance that she will look to the voice of others to speak louder on the subject.
Bottom-line: You can’t control others or what she experiences in this world, but you can shape what she hears from you.
It is scary letting your daughters grow up. I would give all I had if it meant they wouldn’t struggle like I did. But the reality is that I can’t control that. They may still struggle no matter how much I try to avoid that. When I finally starting believing truth after more than 10 years of struggling, my mom asked me why I didn’t believe her all those years when she spoke the truth to me. And honestly, I didn’t have an answer. I don’t know why I chose to believe lies or why I valued what others said about me more than her, but I do know that God used that part of my life to shape me and to minister to others from a more real and tender place. It wasn’t wasted. And I have to trust that if my girls struggle, God is big enough to work in their lives and hearts like He did mine.