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How Moms Teach Daughters to Dislike Their Bodies

woman broken mirrorA new study has found that girls as young as seven learn how to dislike their bodies by hearing their mothers complain about looking "fat" or "old".

The Telegraph is reporting on the research, conducted by OnePoll and commissioned by Dove, which polled 2,000 women aged 30 to 55 who live with girls aged between the ages of seven and 17.

Two-thirds of the women polled said they described themselves as "fat", half said they called themselves "unattractive" and four out of 10 referred to themselves as "ugly" - and seven out of 10 said their child saw or heard them engaging in this kind of "negative body language habits".

As a result, a third of the women said they had seen their child copying their actions

Seven out of 10 women said that their child had seen them engaging in “negative body language habits” and a third admitted that they had seen their daughters copying their actions, such as sucking in their bellies, pinching their thighs and even checking for wrinkles.

Surprisingly, a significant number of the women polled said they had no idea their behavior would impact their daughters in this way.

“Words are extremely powerful in shaping our perceptions of both ourselves and others," said Prof Tony McEnery, a linguistic expert at the UK's Lancaster University.

"Research has shown that children as young as one are impacted by the words expressed by their parents or other influential people in their life. It is crucial that parents and role models understand the important role they play in shaping the self-esteem of their children and younger generations who look up to them. By learning to monitor one’s language and filtering out the negative and emphasizing the positive, we are more likely to pass on positive, lifelong behaviors that have the power to affect self-esteem.”

mother daughterThis advice is sorely needed. According to a Dove survey conducted among 3,300 girls in 2006, a staggering 90 percent of 15 to 17 year olds said they wanted to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance with body weight ranking the highest. Nearly a quarter said they would consider undergoing plastic surgery and another 13 percent admitted that they had an eating disorder.

At the time of the study, Dr. Susie Orbach of the London School of Economics called the results "alarming" and said they demonstrate a clear correlation in the mind of young girls between physical satisfaction and self-esteem.

"They also capture the negative effects society's narrowly defined beauty ideals are  having on women and girls, who must be encouraged to overcome these damaging beauty stereotypes to embrace more authentic and positive ways of  feeling beautiful."

To see their mother exhibit positive body image behavior could serve as a powerful counter force for girls.

Dr. Nancy Etcoff, a Harvard University professor, leading expert on the connection between beauty and emotion and co-author of the 2006 study said that there is great power in the mother-daughter dialogue as far as influencing a girl's self-esteem, body image and satisfaction.

"We know from the study that women are longing for affirmation of their unique, individual beauty, both for themselves and for younger generations," Dr. Etcoff said. "The mother-daughter bond has great potential for empowering girls and making a real difference for future generations."

Women also need to realize that beauty is not just of the body, but of the soul as well. As St. John Paul II wrote in Redemptoris Mater, " . . . In the light of Mary, the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement."

When a woman is certain of the beauty endowed upon her by God, she cannot help but see herself as He sees her - as a unique and exquisite creation who is possessed of the everlasting love of her Creator.

Now that's the kind of "body image" girls need to see in their mothers!

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