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Value, Confidence, and Body Image: What the Miss America News Can Teach Our Daughters, and Us

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Last week, the Miss America pageant announced that it is going to drop the swimsuit portion of the competition.

As Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors, said, “We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. That’s huge.”

I agree with Gretchen Carlson. That is a huge move for an organization that has been around since 1921. Along with scrapping the swimsuit competition, the pageant will also focus more on interviews and allowing the contestants to discuss their social-impact initiatives and how they will make a difference if they are crowned Miss America.

It appears that Miss America is transitioning away from an appearance-based competition to one that will empower women and, therefore, better their communities.

This is good news for women, and this is good news for our daughters. The more our daughters see examples of women who are praised for their strength and intelligence, the more our daughters will want to be strong and intelligent. And the more they strive for these internal characteristics, the less they will internalize the belief that they are only as valuable as their bodies.

The more our daughters see examples of women who are praised for their strength and intelligence, the more our daughters will want to be strong and intelligent.

The fact that Miss America is working to value women for who they are, rather than how they look, is great and could set a good example for our daughters, but what matters even more than Miss America to your daughter is what you think about her, and how you tell her what you think about her.

I’ve seen this again and again with children in my practice. Daughters who feel they are loved, believed in, and cherished just for who they are, rather than how they look, thrive in life. Daughters whose parents don’t convey these messages to them struggle. They look for their value in other things and put themselves at risk.

Daughters who feel they are loved, believed in, and cherished just for who they are, rather than how they look, thrive in life.

Here are a couple of ways you can start communicating positive messages to your daughter now so that she will be set up for a healthy and thriving adulthood:

Tell her you believe in her.

In September 1979, my father spoke a single sentence that changed my life. I had graduated from Mt. Holyoke College earlier in the year and had been rejected from several medical schools, so I was living at home pondering Plan B. One evening, I overheard my father talking to a friend on the phone.

“I’m excited to tell you that my daughter, Meg, will be starting medical school next fall. She’s not quite sure where, though.”

What was he saying? I’ll be going to medical school next fall? How can he say that?

My father believed something about me that I couldn’t yet believe myself. Not only did he believe it, but he, a doctor himself, put his reputation on the line in front of his friend.

I felt thrilled and excited because my father’s confidence gave me hope. And sure enough, in fall 1980, I started medical school, just as my father had said.

When your daughter senses you believe in her, she begins to believe in herself, and when she does, she can do anything.

Compliment her, but in the right way.

It’s important to compliment our daughters, but in the right way. If your compliments consistently focus on her appearance or her performance, you will end up raising a daughter who becomes focused on her appearance or her performance—both of which do not determine her true character or value.

Instead, compliment her character. Make an effort to pick out one or two character qualities you see in your daughter and applaud her for those. If she is compassionate, tell her that this trait makes you proud of her. If she decided not to quit something even when it was difficult, tell her that you are proud of her perseverance.

I am glad that organizations like Miss America are beginning to care about women’s well being and confidence, but remember, you have the most influence over your child’s life. What you say matters more to your daughter than you think. Choose your words, and compliments, wisely. Tell her you believe in her. This will give her more confidence than if she have crowned Miss America herself.

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Feeling a a bit uneasy about having "the talk" with your son or daughter?
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