Author Dannah Gresh explains how parents can teach their young daughters to develop a healthy body image and to avoid the cultural trap many tween and teen girls fall into by believing that their worth is dependent on physical beauty.
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Mrs. Dannah Gresh: What you believe about your body, your daughter's gonna catch. This value of her body having purpose is better caught than taught. So, if you are confident in your womanhood and you are confident in being female and that ranges from your purpose in life to what you do as a vocation, to how you function as a mother, too, how you look at yourself in the mirror every day, your daughter's gonna catch that.
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John Fuller: Well, that's Dannah Gresh and she speaks to teen girls in particular about body confidence and sexual purity and she's our guest on "Focus on the Family" today. Thanks for joining us. Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: You know, John, just that bond between parents and their kids is so awesome. I heard a mom not long ago sharing a story with me where her then 10-year-old son had said (Chuckling) to her and moms of sons can relate to this, this kid said, "Mom, small my armpit. I think I'm goin' into poverty" (Laughter) instead of, you know, the kids (Laughter) just can say the wildest things and it's so much fun.
At the same time, boy, it is fraught with danger. I mean (Chuckling) being the parent of a teen boy or a teen girl. And today we're gonna talk with our very special guest, Dannah Gresh about that special bond between a mother and a daughter. And our goal is to equip you as a mom to help your daughter develop a positive body image, just an overall positive understanding of who she is, made in the image of God as a woman. And there's nobody else better to talk about this than Dannah.
John: And Dannah Gresh writes. She speaks. She has conferences and she is a mom who has walked through this very matter of raising a girl with a strong sense of who she is physically and it's good to have her back, Jim.
Jim: Dannah, welcome back to "Focus."
Dannah: Thank you so much.
Jim: So, let's go right to it. What is the secret? What are the things that you build into a daughter to make her feel like she is worthy?
Dannah: Well, I think there are some things that we can build into them, but the overall goal needs to be creating a confidence in her body versus what is so prevalent in our culture today, which is body consciousness, where girls are constantly aware of their own bodies and the bodies of others and this comparison game.
You know, research tells us that advertisers put beautiful women's bodies and faces in advertisements because not just men, but women are more likely to spend 30 percent more time looking at that advertisement. I mean, why do they use women's faces to sell men's razors? (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, that's a good question.
Dannah: Like that's crazy, right?
Jim: I never thought of that, but it's true.
Dannah: Or women are on the hood of a sports car, targeted towards sales at men. You know, why? It's because both of us respond to that. We are very body conscious as women.
And it's not that we're looking at that woman 'cause she's sexy or beautiful. We're looking at that woman and thinking, do I look like her? Can I look like her? What do I need to do to look like her?
And so, that's the battle that we're fighting. The scary thing, Jim, is the results. You know, we have two-thirds of underweight 12-year-old girls reporting in one survey that they were on a diet. Did you hear what I just said there? They were underweight--
Jim: Yeah, already underweight, 'cause they're worried.
Dannah: --but on a diet, 'cause they want to look like that-impossible standard of beauty.
Jim: Dannah, let me ask you this. You speak to lots of young ladies. That's your ministry. You do conferences around the country. What do you hear from them? What do they struggle with deep down inside?
Dannah: It really is a question of, "Am I beautiful? Am I worthy?"
Jim: And all the doubt.
Dannah: --and all the doubt that they're not. I think men identify with the whole idea of, am I man enough? Am I respected? Do I have what it takes? And women ask the question, "Am I beautiful? Am I worthy? Am I noticeable?"
And it haunts us, because we live in this photo-shopped world where, my goodness, the women on the covers of magazines don't appear to have pores. Of course they have pores and they have acne and they have wrinkles. And they're just like us, but the standard of beauty if completely unattainable.
Jim: Right and they airbrush and they, you know, doctor those things to the Nth degree. You do use these terms and you just used them a moment ago, but I want to make sure we capture them and understand what you mean by them and that's "body consciousness" and "body confidence." What are you getting at with those two descriptors?
Dannah: Well, "Body consciousness" is just that awareness of my constant awareness of my body and other bodies that I should be like. And it really manifests itself at a younger and younger age. When Marilyn Monroe was at the height of her sex icon status, she was 30-years-old. That is called "retirement" by today's—
Dannah: --super model—
Dannah: --status. And she was pedaling products to women in their 20's, young adult women who wanted to look like her. Now we have beauty icons who are 13, 12, 10-years-old and 5- and 6-year-olds wanting to dress in such a way that one magazine asked the question, when did 7 become the new 16? Because we have little girls that look like they're older teenagers.
And it's not just how they look, but the crisis of their health. The average age of an eating disorder clinic patient 10, 15-years-old was 15. Now the average age is 10 with girls as young as 5 being seen.
Jim: As young as 5!
Dannah: As young as 5, so it's really dangerous. And the long-term outcome, the American Psychological Association did a two-year study on the sexualization of girls and found that girls who are obsessed with beauty products and 8- to 12-year-old girls command about $500 million dollars' worth of sales in beauty products in our country alone every year, with eyeliner and—
Jim: Eight to 12.
Dannah: Eight to 12. Eyeliner and mascara sales for that age group doubled in the year 2010. And I wanted to say, what was there to double? Why is there something to double? (Chuckling)
Dannah: What 10-year-old needs mascara--
Dannah: --and eyeliner?
Jim: It should be zero to zero.
Dannah: Right. So, but the APA said that girls who are really buying those products, listening to music lyrics that say, "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" Watching prime time television programs with boyfriend-girlfriend relationships where fashion is the god of all of the characters that, that puts them on a conveyor belt to an early sexual debut, body image issues, eating disorders and depression.
Jim: Man, it's heavy-hearted to hear this. I mean, how does a mom particularly enter into that world with all the billions of dollars of marketing going toward their little girl? They're tryin' to get that mascara on them, pressure them to feel they need to look more beautiful than they are, that they're wholly inadequate. They need this, that or the other thing. How does a mom enter into that world and begin to give that little girl confidence, "body confidence" as you call it—
Jim: --as opposed to consciousness?
Dannah: Body confidence is so important. It's the awareness of your body's purpose, but also awareness that purpose is from God. And so, you don't make too much or too little of yourself, because you know your goal in life is to make much of God.
And I think that's a much healthier place to be. I write at the beginning of this book about a girl named Hannah, who is such evidence that a mom can raise a body confident daughter against all odds, because Hannah was born with some physical deformities. The one that would be most visible would be she has what she calls "nubs." So, on one of her hands she doesn't have fingers. And I met Hannah when she was about 10- or 11- or 12-years-old, those ages where girls are starting to be really body conscious.
And I just noticed how beautiful and bright and confident Hannah was, that she took computer class like all the rest of the kids in my son's class, that she played basketball on the basketball team, that she was just bouncy and bubbly and absolutely beautiful.
And right after I met her, she broke her right arm and when she came to school the next day with her arm in a cast, it was like, "Oh, Hannah!" And there was this moment of absolute terror and fear, because for the first time in knowing this girl for months, I saw that she didn't have fingers. And I thought that the accident had been much more horrific than I imagined. How is it that I had known this girl and this family, been to dinner in their home so many times, never noticed.
Jim: Huh, that's amazing.
Dannah: Never noticed because Hannah had what I call "body confidence."
Jim: She just carried herself regularly.
Dannah: She just carried herself regularly and in contrast, I see and this is common, the most physically beautiful girls are often the ones that struggle with the eating disorders, with the cutting, the bingeing and purging, the obsession with fashion magazines and fashion. They are absolutely stunning and yet, they're being devoured by lies, because they have body consciousness.
Jim: And Dannah, let's express that. When you look at the eating disorders, you look at cutting, what is being expressed there? I think especially in that self-harm way, the cutting and I knew of a family where their daughter had gone through some rough stuff and then it was a couple years later that they discovered, you know, that she was self-harming in that way.
Jim: What is that person who's 10, 11, 12 who's already having that kind of destructive behavior, what are they trying to do when they self-harm? Let's use cutting as an example.
Dannah: Well, I think it's always a cry for help, 'cause if they really, really wanted to harm themselves, it has proven that they probably could do that. But there's such a spectrum for eating disorders and self-harm, that you have to be very careful not to just run to a diagnosis.
Some of them are just really struggling with self-loathing. And they really have some deeply embedded psychological issues that need professional help and a lot of prayer and a lot of love. And other girls, because sadly these things are becoming so common, maybe just noticing that other girls are trying this, maybe I'll try this.
Jim: So, almost fashionable.
Dannah: Almost fashionable. We've really noticed that you have to be very careful when there's an outbreak of eating disorders in a school setting and that's a legitimate thing that happens, that you have to be very careful about how much you address that publicly, because it can be very contagious.
Jim: Wow, that's just amazing.
Dannah: Yeah and many of those girls are not struggling with the deep self-loathing. They're just kind of struggling with, oh, everybody's trying this. Maybe I should try this. And some of them are somewhere in the middle where they don't have an eating disorder, but they do have legitimate disordered eating, which is not the same as an eating disorder.
They may be struggling with an area of depression where they have loss of appetite. And so, they've experienced a lot of weight loss and they really do need some intervention and some help, but they're gonna be really cooperative with it when you begin to give them that help, because their issue isn't really their body image issue. There's something else, an event that triggered depression that caused them to lose their appetite. So, you have to be very careful to get help and be wise when you're the parent that's faced with one of these things—eating disorders or self-harming.
Jim: Talk about the gender issue. Here at Focus we're getting more and more inquiries of Christian parents who are dealing with gender discussions with their teen daughter, teen boys, as well, mostly after the Bruce Jenner transition. I think that was a catalyst because it was so public.
Jim: We have literally seen a spike in these questions coming into Focus on the Family.
Jim: How does the gender discussion, gender confusion, how do these things play into that body image?
Dannah: They're huge. I think that parents can barely understand the world that their tweens are gonna grow up into and how normal is gonna be for someone to just make up their gender. That really was the impetus, the passion behind writing this particular book.
While on the surface it is about a girl understanding her beauty and her value and understanding how to care for her body with health and nutrition, my overriding concern was the confusion about gender, because if body confidence has to do with understanding the purpose of your body, we have to go back to Genesis.
And Genesis says that in the image of God He created us, male and female He created them. So, the purpose of our maleness and our femaleness is to display the reflection and the image of God. And so, they're two very holy and sacred things that have to be protected.
And yet, it's a very complicated conversation. It's not something that's presupposed for a tween child anymore. And it's also something that is medically difficult, 'cause you do have legitimate gender issues like intersexuality, where a child is born with some indiscriminate genitalia and some research has to be done, blood work, specialists are brought in. And so, there are legitimate areas where, as Christians, we have to have an intelligent faith. We have to have an intelligent faith that walks across this very critical battleground that's spiritual, with love and tenderness.
Jim: Well, and I would think that this is right where the enemy of our soul wants to attack.
Jim: And this is why I think there's such confusion today and such a battle raging when it comes to gender identification because of that very Scripture in Genesis, it creates a battle zone and unfortunately, so many in the culture are losing the understanding of that fundamental truth. He made them in His image, male and female. Talk about the importance of maleness and femaleness spiritually.
Dannah: Well, you know, let me say that I believe that we are on the crest of a gender revolution, where the goal is to erase gender, so that there isn't necessarily—
Jim: No one's bound by that.
Dannah: --nobody's bound by it.
Jim: Think of that though. Think of the confusion of that, the chaos of that.
Jim: What do we do with that?
Dannah: Well, I think we do what Jesus did. When Jesus walked this earth, there was another kind of sexuality revolution happening. It was the divorce revolution. And men were reveling in their freedom to divorce and marry at will. And it was a new concession for Jews.
And Jesus is faced with the question by Pharisees who want to use the divorce revolution, the sexual revolution of the day to create a loss of affection from the masses. You know, they don't like that Jesus is beloved. And so, they realize this man is teaching from the Scriptures, so He's gonna agree with us and He's not gonna like this divorce thing. He's gonna say so and they're gonna hate Him.
Dannah: And we have our problem solved. So, when Jesus is asked that question about divorce, His opinion doesn't rest on what is right or wrong. Instead He says, "In the beginning," and He goes back to Genesis and He quotes that passage that I just said, that we were created in the image of God, male and female.
Now this answer doesn't create condemnation, because He doesn't say, "Hey, you know, if you're part of this divorce revolution, you're wrong; you're horrible. You're horrific." He recognizes the lost are just acting like the lost. Those encrusted in sin are just acting like they love their sin.
So, He points them back to the beginning and He says not, "You are bad," but "Let me remind you what you were created for." And it's such a compassionate conversation that the Pharisees are dumbfounded. The crowd is not offended. But Jesus doesn't accuse them, those who are participating in the divorce revolution, but neither does He endorse them.
And I think that's the intelligent faith language we need to use with our children, is we need to take them back to the beginning and say, "Let me tell you," not just remind you, 'cause hopefully they aren't caught up yet in the confusion. But "Let me tell you what you were created for." Our best conversations that we have with our children about the gender revolution are not gonna be to talk about what's happening down the street with Tommy, who's changing his name to Tina. Our best conversation is going to build a value system from the foundation up that teaches them the purpose of their gender, their maleness or their femaleness, which is to glorify God.
Jim: Well, and particularly, how do we help daughters to do that? How does a mom help a daughter to know that practical step? What am I created for? How do you answer that question, mom? Why was I created as a woman?
Dannah: Multifaceted, multifaceted. First of all, let's start with this. What you believe about your body, your daughter's gonna catch. This value of her body having purpose is better caught than taught. So, if you are confident in your womanhood and you are confident in being female and that ranges from your purpose in life to what you do as a vocation, to how you function as a mother, too, how you look at yourself in the mirror every day, your daughter's gonna catch that.
But if you have hatred about the box or the limitations or the glass ceiling, that might legitimately be in your career field or if you have hatred about the differences between men and women and you are a what I would call a "hyper feminist," where it's not just about, "Hey, I have the right to vote and own property, but man, men are jerks," because that's what all of the television commercials that are so funny tell us every day, that men are emasculated, they're not as smart as we are, but they are funny. They're very funny.
If you're a woman and a mother who espouses that, your daughter's gonna start to believe that. And if you're a woman who looks in the mirror every day and hates what you see, your daughter's gonna feel that.
Jim: You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Today our guest is Dannah Gresh. We're talking about her book, Raising Body Confident Daughters: 8 Conversations to Have with Your Tween. And let's get into those conversations now, Dannah. What are the most important of the eight? Where would you gravitate? What are a couple of the most important conversations that you need to have with your daughter?
Dannah: Well, foundationally the first conversation, I think, is really critical. The key thought is, your body was created to glorify God. And I want to say that these conversations that I've written about in the book are presented in fun wonderful experiences. This particular one is just kind of a mountain walk, a field, a beach or an observatory at night on a dark night where you can see a full moon or a bright moon, because it's not just the content we tell our daughters about their bodies and about their beauty.
But it's the atmosphere of connecting as mother and daughter that is equally as protective in making them have a body confidence mind-set, rather than a body conscience mind-set. So, the experience, just spend time with y our daughter. Be together. But this first conversation that your body was created to glorify God is so important, because we live in a culture where we are seeking to glorify ourself.
Dannah: So, if you're teaching your daughter to go out and let's say, rake your elderly neighbor's lawn together, that's a good work. She's putting in the garment of good works. If you're teaching her to help bake cookies for Bible school or a meal for a family who's just had a baby or if you're taking her on a missions trip and she's handing out food and clothing or any kind of resources to people that are really stricken with poverty, you are appropriately teaching her the purpose of her body, which is a positive thing. Your body was created to do good works, as opposed to teaching her negatively what her body shouldn't do and that is a critical difference, I think, in how a mom would teach the philosophy of this first conversation.
Jim: In fact, the third of those eight conversations you describe is, your body, God's temple. Elaborate on that one, because I thought that was really good and at the core of it, that's the thing.
Dannah: Yeah, it is. Well, your body is a temple of God, okay. We know that kind of conceptually is kinda one of those up there and lofty conversations that we have.
Jim: But you just said it the way a teen girl (Laughter) is gonna react, if you use that kind of language.
Jim: "I know; I know."
Dannah: Exactly. Their eyeballs are gonna roll into the back of their head and every mother will survive that, I promise. But you know, going back to the first conversation's purpose that your body was created to glorify God. We think of glorifying God and being a temple as this very intangible concept. And how do you even explain to a child that their body's a temple or that they're supposed to glorify God?
Well, 1 Corinthians 6:20 says, "You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." It doesn't stop with, "So glorify God," period.
Dannah: So, glorify God in your body. This is where glorifying God becomes very practical. This is where glorifying God becomes about, you were created in the image of God, male and female He created them. Our bodies were created so that God could be seen.
Because what does it mean to glorify God? What does that mean? How do you tell an 8-year-old girl what it means to glorify God?
Jim: Especially with your body.
Dannah: Especially with your body. I mean, I thought about this long and hard and so, the first conversation is set on a moonlit night. You take your daughter for a walk and you look up at the moon and you have the largest object lesson you will ever have with her, because you ask her, "Does that moon have any light of its own?" No, that moon is a cold dark stone.
Well, then you ask your daughter, "Well, so, why is it so bright?" "Well, mom, you know, we learned that in science class. It's the sun being reflected off the moon. We're actually seeing the sun." Eureka. Now you have an object lesson of what it means to glorify God.
And we go back to that passage in Genesis where it says that male and female are the image of God. We look like God and the world sees the reflection of who He is. That's glorifying Him and we look like that and we do that in the gender of female, because that's what God has chosen for us.
Jim: Yeah. And Dannah, I want to end with something you said and highlight it once again, that if a mom doesn't possess these confidences, that if she's lacking, it's going to reflect onto the daughter. So, those very things that you see in your daughter, you may want to look at the log in your eye.
Jim: That's hard to hear, but you've gotta see if you're demonstrating and embracing God's design for you—
Dannah: That's right.
Jim: --made in His image as a woman. Speak to that mom who may be struggling with that. In that deepest part of her heart she's going, I don't possess these things to give to my daughter.
Dannah: Well, let me tell you a story, 'cause I think it conveys how well a mom can impact what her daughter believes about her body. I interviewed a woman who did not like her legs. She had larger legs. She thought they were enormous, but she knew early on when her daughter was born that the way she felt about her legs would translate. So, she decided to become a runner. And she started running shortly after that baby girl was born.
So, instead of saying, "I hate my legs; I don't like my legs," of course, running made them more muscular, less delicate even than they were. But what she would say in front of her daughter is, "I have strong legs. My legs are strong. My legs are fast."
And when that daughter was about 12-years-old, I met up with them and I asked the mother and the daughter, "How do you feel about your eyes? How do you feel about your hair? How do you feel about your arms?" And then I got to, "How do you feel about your legs?"
And really tears came to my eyes when this daughter, who was still spindly and tiny and frail said, "I have strong legs."
Dannah: "My legs are fast." That's the impact you can have on your daughter.
Jim: And Dannah, that is a great place to end. This has been a wonderful conversation, your book, Raising Body Confident Daughters: 8 Conversations to Have with Your Tween. And you know, if you didn't hear all eight in there, you gotta get the book and we want to provide that for you. And our way of doing that is for a gift of any amount, I want to send it to you to say thank you for that and we want to equip you with that ability to have the conversation that you need to have. And it's a good reminder, Dannah, for all of us as parents to stay engaged. You don't do this one time and then walk away and it's all fixed. And I think we as parents often we fall into that trp. This is an ongoing dialogue that you're gonna have for the rest of your life probably with your daughter and with your son in a different context. And you have started that conversation so well, Dannah. Thanks for bein' with us.
Dannah: Thank you so much.
John: Such an important discussion with Dannah Gresh today for moms and daughters and insightful for us dads, as well. And we have her book, Raising Body-Confident Daughters available here at Focus on the Family. As you can tell from Dannah, it's a great guide for you to take your daughter through these critical conversations and to offer her biblical insights about being a young woman and making that transition into adulthood. Look for it online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, as we hear from Cynthia Tobias about how you can direct your strong will to improve your relationships.
Cynthia Tobias: You don't get to say, "Well, I'm strong willed, so you just have to deal with it." No, no, because if I really want to honor God with my strong will, then I go to the foot of the Cross and I leave it there.
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John: Cynthia Tobias on the next "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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Dannah GreshView Bio
Dannah Gresh is a best-selling author of numerous books and a popular public speaker who is especially passionate about helping parents build strong relationships with their children and encouraging tweens and teens to pursue sexual purity. Dannah's recent books include It's Great to Be a Girl, Raising Body-Confident Daughters and A Girl's Guide to Understanding Boys. Dannah and her husband, Bob, reside in State College, Pa., and have three grown children. Learn more about Dannah and her work by visiting the website for her organization, Pure Freedom.