Folks, this one is personal for me. As someone with an ~ahem~ family history of disordered thinking about body image, it is very, very high on my priority list to get this right with my daughter. Dr. Renee Engeln, author of the book Beauty Sick, helps us sort through issues like:
- Should I tell my daughter she’s pretty?
- What should I say when she asks me if she’s pretty?
- Is teaching our daughters about media literacy – the ability to critique images they see in the media – enough to protect them, or not?
- …and so much more!
I know there’s a lot more to raising a girl than just this issue, and in time I hope to find another expert to discuss how we can raise daughters who aren’t limited by broader societal expectations, but there’s enough on this topic to make it an episode by itself.
In the show, we discuss a prompt you can use to write a self-compassionate letter to yourself as a way of recognizing all the amazing things your body can do; Professor Engeln actually sent me two of them. If you’re reading this from an email you received about the show, click through to the episode’s page to see those.
- Body-Compassion letter (based on Neff’s exercises available at self-compassion.org):
For the next 10 minutes, you will be writing a letter to yourself. The letter should be all about your body, but it should be from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend. Think about your body from the perspective of a friend who cares about you. What would your friend want to tell you about your body? If you run out of things to write, re-write what you already have, perhaps with different wording.
Think about this imaginary friend who is unconditionally loving, accepting, kind and compassionate. Imagine that this friend can see all the strengths and all the weaknesses of your body, including any aspects of your body that you may view as flawed or imperfect. Reflect upon what this friend would say about your body, knowing that you are loved and accepted with your body exactly as it is, with all your body’s very human imperfections. This friend recognizes the limits of human nature and is kind and forgiving toward you. In his/her great wisdom, this friend understands your life history and the millions of things that have happened in your life to give you the body you have in this moment.
Write a letter to yourself, about your body, from the perspective of this imaginary friend. What would this friend say about your body from the perspective of unlimited compassion? How would this friend convey the deep compassion he/she feels for you, especially for the pain you feel if you tend to judge the flaws and imperfections of your body harshly? What would this friend write in order to remind you that you are only human, that all bodies have both strengths and weaknesses? As you write to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend, try to infuse your letter with a strong sense of his/her acceptance of your body, caring, and desire for your health and happiness. Above all else, be kind, understanding, and compassionate toward your body.
2. Body Functionality letter:
For the next 10 minutes, you will be writing a letter to yourself. The letter should be all about what your body does. Think about all your body does and how it helps you do the things you want to do each day. Focus on everything your body can do for you and write a letter to yourself about that topic. If you run out of things to write, re-write what you already have, perhaps with different wording.
Think about all the strengths of your body in terms of everything it can do. What has your body allowed you to do throughout your life? Think about the different parts of your body and how they each play a role in helping you do what you need to do each day.
Engeln, R. (2017). Beauty Sick: How the cultural obsession with appearance hurts girls and women. New York, NY: HarperCollins. (Affiliate link)
Fredrickson, B.L., Roberts, T.A., Noll, S.M., Quinn, D.M., & Twenge, J.M. (1998). That swimsuit becomes you: Sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating, and math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 75(1), 269-284.
Neff, K.D. (2011). Self-compassion, self-esteem, and well-being. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 5(1), 1-12.
Neff, K.D., & McGehee, P. (2010). Self-compassion and psychological resilience among adolescents and young adults. Self and Identity 9, 225-240.