Three ways to model a healthy body image for your daughter

Written by Erin Kerry
Published on July 29, 2022

I started hating my body when I was eight years old. I never felt comfortable or at peace in it. By the time I was developing into a woman, during the fashion era of body suits, I was told to wear a jean vest. I translated that to mean that there is something shameful about being a woman. I was overly modest, constantly concerned about managing men’s view of me, and always berating myself for every flaw.

While I was frequently reminded of Psalm 139:14, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” the messaging I received from other people in my life acted as a buffer and prevented me from absorbing the truth of that passage.

I know I am not alone. I know many Christian women struggle with body image for various reasons. Many of us grew up believing that it was better to be body-hating than overly prideful. Somehow, many Christian women have subconsciously believed that the opposite of selfishness is self-bullying, and I have a hard time finding a source in Scripture to back that up.

We marvel in awe at creation, at a beautiful sunrise on the beach or at the snow-topped mountains at sunset. We take pictures of nature with Instagram captions like, “God’s masterpiece,” or “Isn’t God an amazing painter?” Yet when it comes to us, we allow ourselves to spit in the face of our Creator by beating ourselves up. We dwell on negative body thoughts, thinking we are too large, too thin, we have autoimmune flare-ups, we have joint pain or painful menstrual cycles. We spend much time focusing on what is broken or needing to be fixed, especially in casual conversation with other females. We use language like “I shouldn’t eat that,” or “I really need to start working out again.” We talk about being cursed due to our monthly cycle, or we avoid taking pictures when we are the one ‘on the end.’

Unfortunately, this messaging is picked up by our daughters. They hear our conversations with friends, and if not from us, they hear it from other women in their lives.. It is a cultural norm, and Bible-believing women are not immune.

Here’s a question I ask many of my female clients: Do you remember ever hearing positive messages about the female body by adult females in your life? Most of my clients have to search really hard to find a memory that contains a positive message. Most women only remember the negative, not just about body image and body modification, but about things like menstrual cramps and headaches, and all the aspects of womanhood. It is usually described as a burden.

This flies in the face of what Scripture tells us about creation.

“O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all” (Psalm 104:24).

“The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made” (Psalm 104:31b).

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus or good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Our bodies are part of God’s miraculous creation, yet we criticize them like they’re trash and treat them like a construction project to continually perfect and modify. As if he made a mistake, as if we are not HIS workmanship at all. It is not selfish to be grateful for how you’ve been designed. It is not selfish to marvel in awe at all the things your body does to keep you alive every day. That design is on purpose just as you are here on purpose!

Now, I know some may be concerned about modesty. Believe me, I get that it’s probably not helpful to parade our “masterpiece” around town in very little clothing. I’m not going to get into the modesty debate for parents. That is up to the discernment the Holy Spirit has entrusted you with. I think anytime we go into extremes, whether extreme modesty or extreme flaunting, we suffer from body idolatry, not body gratitude. Being grateful for God’s creation and worshiping His creation are two very different things. When we overly obsess over body perfection and these thoughts consume us, we can cross into the slippery slope of idolatry. Being consumed by our looks and body image takes our eyes away from Jesus where our true focus should be found.

So how can we model a healthy body image for our daughters?

1. Phrasing matters. 

Even at a young age, our daughters pick up on how we talk about our bodies. Using positive language in regards to our bodies will reflect on how they see their own. Saying things like, “I love moving my body, because it makes me feel good and gives me energy,” will translate differently to a young brain than, “Ugh, I ate too much at lunch. I need to burn that off later.” One message implies pleasure and gratitude, one message implies punishment. Even saying something like, “I can’t eat that, it’s not on my diet plan,” sounds much more restrictive than, “I am listening to my body and it’s telling me I’m full” or “I might not feel as much energy if I eat that right now, so I am going to listen to my body and say no.”

2. Actions matter.

 If you are stepping on the scale every day, chances are your daughter has caught on to that. If you’re body-checking in the mirror, sucking in, turning from one side to the other, your daughter has likely caught on to that. She is watching how you watch your body, and modeling her behavior after yours. Even if you don’t say a word about any of it, your actions toward your body portray a message about how you view your body… and your worth.

3. Gratitude matters. 

Celebrate femininity with your daughter. Talk about what it means to be a woman and all the extra parts and hormones that go along with it. Marvel in awe with her about how God created us so differently from men, truly wonderfully made. When she has her first period, celebrate it. When she buys her first bra, celebrate all the shifts and changes that are occurring physically. When she has cramps, empathize with her in how our bodies work in mysterious ways to alert us to discomfort and correct imbalances.

Above all else, remind her that she is a masterpiece. She is a poem, a love song crafted by her Creator, to walk in the calling she has been prepared for. 

And that is nothing to be ashamed of.

Consider a few extra resources:

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Erin Kerry

Erin Kerry is a certified integrative nutrition health coach and mom to three children. She has received training from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and The School of Applied Functional Medicine. As a survivor of mental illness, she is passionate about advocating for mental health. She is the owner of Sparking Wholeness, host of the Sparking Wholeness podcast, and works as the Integrative Health Coach at Living Well Counseling and Wellness Center in Tyler, Texas.

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