We are mirrors -- we teach children how to feel about themselves, not only through our words, but also through our actions. We can tell a child that she's beautiful, but if we're constantly denigrating ourselves, she'll learn to see herself in that same critical light. Here's a beautiful example of how one mother's experiment to help instill a healthy body image in her daughters ends up helping her to improve her own:
"'Look at me, girls!' I say to them. 'Look at how beautiful I am. I feel really beautiful, today.' "I see it behind their eyes, the calculating and impression. I see it behind their shining brown eyes, how glad they are that I believe I am beautiful. They love me. To them, I am love and guidance and warm, soft blankets and early mornings. They have never doubted how wonderful I am. They have never doubted my beauty. How confusing it must have been for them to see me furrowing my brow in the mirror and sucking in my stomach and sighing."How confusing it must have been to have me say to them, 'You think I am beautiful, but you are wrong. You are small and you love me, so you're not smart enough to know how unattractive I am. I know I am ugly because I see myself with mean eyes. You are my child and I love you, but I will not allow myself to be pretty, for you. ... No matter how much you want to be just like me, I can't be beautiful for you and I don't know why. "It's working, a little bit. I've even stopped hating myself, a little bit."