Spring is the time of year when we receive an abundance of bathing suit magazines in the mail. Land’s End, Athleta, and Venus are a few that barrage our mailbox. It’s also the time of year when my oldest daughter and I discuss what type of bathing suits we will wear. This is hard. Really hard. Teenage girls are growing and changing, they are more aware of their bodies than ever before, and this provides the perfect opportunity to have healthy, intentional conversations about their bodies and their beauty.
This is not a post about how to tell your daughter she can’t wear a bikini. This is a post to discuss how we talk to our daughters about their bodies. In a culture of body shaming and comparing, early sexualization, and where pictures are tossed around digitally like waves in the ocean, we are called to empower them to make wise choices and guide them in what is true.
What we need to know about a girl’s development:
- Developmentally they are not able to distinguish between sexy and pretty. There is a direct relationship between focusing on being sexy and increased insecurity about their bodies.
- Self-objectification happens the more a girl wears clothes that are sexy in nature. This means they “internalize cultural pressures specific to appearance.” This causes their self worth to be based on how others view their appearance.
- Their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. This is the part of the brain responsible for rational, logical decision making as well as self-regulation. Emotions are often what drive decision making.
- Pack mentality: Our daughter’s view of what is pretty, and appropriate is often determined by what everyone else is wearing. This makes choosing wisely difficult if an entire culture or community is saying one thing and you are saying another.
How to talk to our girls:
Honestly: Our girls need us to speak the truth to them. Over and over. We speak of their beauty, of their value, of their abilities. Explain what it means to be sexy and how that differs from being externally beautiful. Point out various advertisements targeting their age and discuss the messages found within. Empower them to read the messages broadcast in culture. Compare those messages to what the Bible says about beauty and value. Help them have eyes to see.
With a Listening ear: Our girls need to be heard by us. This takes time. There may be awkward silence. There may be disagreement. Part of empowering our daughters means teaching them to have an assured voice. Listening to them will provide insight to their struggles and to the places from which they develop their opinions. What shuts our daughters down is a harsh mandate. Their emotions and their bodies are in transition and they need us as their number one fan. Rules without relationship equals rebellion. Our girls need a consistent, compassionate relationship with us. This will give us a trustworthy voice.
With Encouragement: Encouragement is different than flattery and trite words to make them feel good. To encourage someone is to give them support, confidence and hope. This is the privilege we have as parents and mentors. They are wired to find a source of hope from somewhere. Our culture offers hope and confidence from a sexy appearance. We can offer our daughters such a greater hope! We support them in their endeavors, we remind them of their confidence in Christ and we point them to eternal hope that is theirs. If they understand whose they are, choosing clothing wisely will be reflective of this reality.
Patiently: This is hard. One minute it may seem as if you are getting through to her and the next minute you want to pull your hair out. Remember, our girls are not able to fully rationalize their decisions. They look to their peers for what is true, and they are living in a time when self-objectification is the norm. We listen, we encourage, we speak honestly and then we do the same again. And again. We humble ourselves and remember our girls are of supreme value and worthy of any and all frustration.
Firmly: Our teenage daughters are not adults. We listen to them, we encourage them, and we are honest with them. However, the decision about what they wear is not theirs. It is ours. We may need to be their prefrontal cortex. Part of loving them is protecting them, even from their own desires. We have wisdom that comes from age and experience that they do not yet have. Parent them.
Truly this takes a community. Moms and mentors need to talk to other women in community. Commit to encourage your girls together. Mothers and other strong female mentors are still the primary influence in a young woman’s life. Model for them that our clothing reflects our dignity. It speaks to our how we view ourselves. Every year as bathing suit season approaches, my daughter and I watch a video by bathing suit designer, Jessica Rey. She is an articulate young women with a powerful message about clothing, bathing suits, and how we present the beauty that God has given. Her video can be found here:
We won’t always have the authority to guide them in what they wear. We direct them to what is true and lovely so they are empowered to choose confidently. May the clothing they choose reflect the supreme value we know they behold. May we have grace and patience to walk with them. May they know their infinite value comes from something much more profound than their appearance. May they also know this value is beautifully reflected in how they present themselves!