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Raising Daughters of Confidence

With all of the "progress" we've made, how is it that girls and women still struggle in slipstream of low self-image?

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is the true story of a woman who “raised 10 kids on 25 words or less.” In the 1950s, companies wouldn’t hire women as advertising executives, but they routinely relied on women to write their slogans. Clever women, with a gifting for words, learned to (defiantly!) work the jingle-writing-contest system to provide actual income for their families.   

Today, girls are told they can be anything. I am thankful that they have the very real opportunity to do so. We owe thanks first to our great-grandmothers, the suffragettes who stood up for a woman’s right to vote, and to the women who came after them, until the 1970s brought about further change.

Given all of the “opportunity” and “equality” we have, how is it that today, we have a higher tendency to get caught in the slipstream of low self-image?

More than 40 years after the women’s movement began in earnest, women are still objectified. The stakes are high, the effects of giving credence to “Media Myths” devastating: low self-esteem, poor body image, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, depression… 

How do we teach our daughters to rise above the ridiculous "ideals" of the images implanted on their brains? Should we not let them watch TV? Stay out of the mall? Make them wear blinders in the grocery check-out?  

Sticking your head in the sand only leads to sand in places you don’t want to feel it.

Certainly our daughters need “grit” to survive in this world, but hiding them away won’t help them find it. Standing for Truth comes from experience, dialogue and courageous defiance against cultural norms.

We must be vigilant combating the influences our daughters subconsciously internalize, from birth. (If you haven’t noticed how unrealistically “perfect” the Disney Princesses’ bodies are, it’s only because we’ve come to “expect” a certain body type from our leading female characters. Why should cartoons be any less “realistic?")

I grew up carrying personal insecurities, derived from comparing myself to media images and from hearing comments made by adult men, about women and their bodies. Men, don’t make jokes about women’s bodies, ever! The ears that hear (your boys’, your girls’) will be forever changed.  

I still deal with insecurity, though I'm a fairly confident woman.

How did confidence triumph?

In part, I credit my mother, who affirmed me in my beauty. She celebrated when I got a new outfit, but she put more emphasis on looking into my eyes, appreciating my smile, my sense of humor, my affinity for show-tunes and my enthusiasm for life. She laughed with me and enjoyed life with me, even when I made her the butt of my jokes. She often stood by my mirror, telling me how pretty I was as I got ready to go out.  

She was so irritating. I hated it.

And I loved it.

I believed I could do anything. I was brainwashed to believe it. 

In early childhood, I was a guinea pig for my mom’s kindergarten classroom. In the midst of the “I’m OK; You’re OK” environment of the 1970s, I listened to a record as I turned the pages of an oddly-shaped, tall, thick, companion book. In one activity, I looked into the mirror on the page and told myself, “You’re somebody special!”

I laugh now, but it was a good message. I’m sure it helped me to cope with the eventual realization that I was never going to have Farrah Fawcett’s breasts!

Affirming our daughters in their gifting, abilities, interests and physical appearance is critical if we are going to raise confident girls. Dads, I cannot over-emphasize your role.

Our fathers define us. From the very contribution of your sperm at conception, determining our gender, to the name you give us at birth, to your affirmation of us as daughters of worth, you, our fathers, draw out our femininity.

Growing up, I couldn’t wait to model a new outfit for Dad. How he responded could make or break how I felt in it. Without you, Dads, we are lost.

When you least understand your daughter, in adolescence; when you think “retreating” and “letting her mother deal with it” is the answer, press in!

Your daughter needs you. 

Author and speaker Gordon Dalbey advocates for this truth in Fathers and Daughters (an eye-opening message, available on CD and DVD.) Gordon has become a “spiritual father” to me as I teach on True Beauty. Last year, he gave me Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer's book Raising Confident Girls: 100 tips for Parents and Teachers. Though not a new title (2001, Fisher Books), it contains a wealth of wisdom. In coming weeks, I’ll share some highlights here at "The Growth Chart."

We’ll also talk about “alien invasion” — you know, that moment when you’re certain the aliens came and stole away your baby, leaving behind an unknown life-form disguised as an adolescent?

Moms and especially dads — Others have gone before you. You, too, can survive adolescent girlhood. With a little hope, you might just raise a Daughter of Confidence.

Jodi VanGorder November 18, 2011 at 02:27 AM
Awwww, its my Bekah. How she has grown since then (physically, mentally, spiritually). I will have to make sure she sees this. Your study was the best thing for us in raising our daughter, you taught her daddy to learn to continue to relate to her now that she's 15. And you made him take dance lessons...rofl.

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