I want to tell you a story that may seem familiar to you. It's one I hear all too often as mothers struggle to help with their daughter's self-esteem. This issue is one that most girls face at some point in their young lives, and it can be difficult for mom to tackle! But what if the issue isn't really self-esteem?
Jenny won’t talk.
Her eyes are slanted in angry disposition, but it is apparent that they are a beautiful, deep blue. Her hair is strawberry blonde and beautiful. Jenny’s physical attributes would make her an all- American poster child, but there is no brightness in her as there should be for a ten-year-old girl.
Her mom explains the problem. “Jenny doesn’t think she’s pretty,” she begins. “She cries every day after school and says she’s not going to go back because she’s fat.” Jenny is a healthy weight for her age. Not underweight or over. Just right. She would best be described as athletic. Since Jenny isn’t talking and her mom is, someone volunteers to take Jenny for some cake in the other room. “What do you think about your weight,” we ask when Jenny is out of earshot.
The mother, who was equally as lovely and below average in weight, looks down at the floor and hesitates before saying, “I’ve gained five pounds in the past few months. I’m getting older and it’s upsetting to me. It’s so sad to me that as an adult I’m still
worried about what people think. I thought I would grow out of it, and to realize I AM THE ONE who passed it on to my daughter...I don’t want her to worry about her weight and yet I DO.”
She begins to cry.
If only that story were fiction. It’s not.
That happened at one of my Lies Girls Believe focus groups. I wanted to be in touch with the parenting reality of today’s moms of girls aged 8-12, so I traveled across the country to facilitate focus groups with them. At each of these meetings, I asked moms: “Is there a part of your daughter’s body or face that she does not like.” 50% said yes. Then I asked them this: “If you said yes, how do you feel about that part of your body or face?” 28% said they also did not like the same party of their own body or face. 17% were uncertain.
The realization hit us all hard. It’s one thing to hope and believe that our daughters won’t face the same beauty battles we have. It’s quite another to consider the fact that we may actually be introducing her to the fight.
So how do we help our girls? We need to stop telling ourselves lies, too! Here's a big one:
“How I feel about my body won’t impact her.”
According to a Wall Street Journal article, one study found that 80% of ten-year-old girls had already been on diets to lose weight. Anorexia and bulimia are on the rise. Thirty to forty percent of women think about body image every day and almost half of them say it is because their mothers did. They resent their mothers for it. 1
Lies we believe are easily passed on to our daughters.
When it comes to her body and beauty, Truth is better caught than taught. I know you have no problem reading Psalm 139 and believing that your girl is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” but do you believe it about you?
Of course, I don’t think our biggest concerns for our daughters should be about beauty. We should be most concerned about lies about God. But, apparently, we really aren’t.
Another question I asked moms in my focus groups was this: “What kinds of lies are you most concerned about?” The number one category was “self-esteem,” with 32% stating it was their greatest concern. I followed that up with this question: “What does your daughter struggle with that you did not struggle with when you were her age?” I emphasized that I wasn’t asking what the moms feared would be a problem, but what currently was a problem in their daughter’s lives. Their number one answer: self-entitlement. At 23% of respondents, this was the runaway leader.
Do you see the contradiction?
On one hand, moms were asking us to help their daughters have more self-esteem. On the other hand, moms recognized that their daughters struggle with self-entitlement. This contradiction reveals that our own hearts can be confused and sometimes even wrong when it comes to raising girls. It also has me hoping and praying that moms will stop telling themselves this lie:
“The most important thing about raising girls is protecting their self-esteem.”
But the most important thing about raising girls is not what they feel about themselves, but what God says. Each of the books in the Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s Lies We Believe series, begins with lies we believe about God. Why? Because nothing is more important than uprooting lies we believe about God and replacing them with Truth. If your daughter believes lies about God, she’ll end up believing lots of other lies. Nothing matters more than this.
We’re often easily confused when it comes to how we teach our daughters Truth and what topics matter most. At least, that’s the conclusion I came to for myself as a mom. Doing this research helped me see more clearly, and I hope it will help many moms do the same as they read the full report of my work in A Mom’s Guide To Lies Girls Believe. Because if we cannot see the Truth, we’ll have a hard time teaching it to our girls.
As for the concern about self-esteem, I have this to say:
Your daughter does not need self-esteem. She needs God-esteem. If she understands who God is, she will understand her own value but not make too much of it.